Cox Plate could be axed in centenary year as carnival chaos looms

Moonee Valley could cancel the 100th running of the Cox Plate rather than stage the event behind closed doors, CEO Michael Browell has revealed.

Australia's greatest weight-for-age race, recently won four years in a row by the wonder mare Winx, might not be staged at all this year because of the coronavirus and the impact it has on racing and the entire spring carnival, Browell said.

Moonee Valley CEO Michael Browell says the Cox Plate may be cancelled this year rather than staged behind closed doors.Credit:Lucy Aulich

"One of the options that we will have to consider is putting a line through the Cox Plate this year if everything isn't back in normal working conditions and then postpone it until October 2021," he told RSN radio.

The Valley's top executive says that there are huge plans in train for a massive celebration of the race, including the attendance of past legends and overseas guests.

If they can't fly in because of travel restrictions or the race would have to be run in an empty venue, then it might not be worth staging at all until 2021, Browell said.

"We have stopped the program [planning for the centenary event] at this stage. There's a lot of questions but not a lot of answers.

"I have set a date of June 1 as a critical date to work out how the spring carnival could roll through.

"If we find we are not racing on June 1 and if we find that horses are not in training on June 1 I would imagine it's going to be very difficult to be running a Cox Plate on October 24."

Sports involving animals were much harder to reactivate than football, basketball, tennis and golf, he said, and that also puts a huge question mark over the future not just of the Plate but the whole carnival.

"If we find that training closes down, horses have to be sent to agistment, then you are starting from scratch, it could take anywhere between eight to 10 weeks before you have got horses back racing, and that's over short-course distances."

Asked if the hitherto unthinkable could be on the table – cancellation – Browell was matter of fact.

'There's that many permutations, combinations and options open to us that we are not going to jump the gun, we have got a bit of time before we need to be making those calls."

But he stressed how vital it was that the race had a crowd, an international field and audience and was a true celebration of Australian racing in its 100th staging.

"My least preferred model would be to be running the Cox Plate with no one on course. It's the hundredth year, we have got a massive celebration planned, we were flying people in from around the world for this.

"Even with the borders being closed down it's difficult to be running a Cox Plate this year, you can't get the best jockeys, the horses can still move interstate but I am not going to pre-empt what the decision might be.

"We have got a little bit of time up our sleeve, but we want the 100th running of the WS Cox Plate to be a massive celebration.

"We want 35,000 people on course, we want to have all the past champions and heroes there to celebrate it with us, and if that means we need to postpone it or put a line through 2020 and come back and do it in 2021 we will do that.

"Ideally the world gets back to normal and we can run it this year. All the planning is done, we are all set to go. Everything is in place and we just need to work that through."

The whole spring carnival program was up for discussion, he said, given the massive amounts of revenue it generates for the sport.

"That's a conversation that we are having at chief executive level across the clubs.

"It could be that the Melbourne Cup is run on the first Tuesday in December and what does that mean for the Caulfield Cup. These races also rely now on international participation.

"The MRC, VRC, Moonee Valley, we are not sure yet what the spring carnival model might look like [but] you are talking many millions of dollars [without crowds]. That's what sustains the club.

"The Melbourne Cup carnival has 300,000 attendees, the Caulfield Cup carnival across three meetings, they have 60,000 or 70,000 turn up. We get 35,000 for Cox Plate day, then you throw the Friday night in.

"I think the racing model without crowds is one option, whether you could do that and not have the big feature races.

"But that's a big call to walk away from all the black type races from the spring carnival when that's what really underpins the breeding industry."

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