Horse racing: Melbourne Cup to go ahead but without spectators despite easing of virus curbs

Despite hopes that some sort of crowd would be allowed, the Victoria Racing Club conceded that it would not be possible. PHOTO: FLEMINGTON RACECOURSE AND VICTORIA RACING CLUB/FACEBOOK

MELBOURNE (AFP) - Australia's Melbourne Cup horse race will go ahead next month but without crowds due to coronavirus restrictions, the organisers said on Sunday (Oct 25), dealing the event a major blow.

First run in 1861, it is a cultural institution and up to 100,000 well-dressed punters usually flock to Flemington, with boozy parties held nationwide and the winning horse instantly becoming a household name in Australia.

But despite hopes that some sort of crowd would still be allowed on Nov 3, within government and public health guidelines, the Victoria Racing Club conceded that it would not be possible.

"While we are very disappointed not to be able to welcome our members and racegoers to Cup Week, we understand the (Victorian) government's commitment to keeping our community safe," chairman Amanda Elliott said in a statement.

"We also recognise the need for certainty and clarity for our patrons."

Victoria state has been battling a resurgence of Covid-19, with Melbourne's five million people under stay-at-home restrictions for three months.

Case numbers have dwindled in recent weeks with only a handful of daily infections, and some lockdown rules were relaxed last week.

But big-ticket sporting events in Melbourne have been hit hard with the Australian Rules football grand final played outside the city on Saturday for the first time in over a century, with Richmond winning their third title in four seasons in Brisbane.

This year's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne - the Formula One season opener - was cancelled at the last minute in March as the virus first emerged in the city.

Organisers are confident that cricket's Boxing Day Test in December - this year featuring India - and the Australian Open tennis Grand Slam in January will go ahead.

But whether fans are allowed remains to be seen.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.