There won’t be 28,000 cramming into the course to watch the Japanese pinch one of racing’s most prized Cups. Instead, many will be forced to watch from the couch, as has been the case since March’s All-Star Mile meeting at the same track.
For the Greens, that’s how they’re preparing to tackle this upcoming carnival – Suzy is a self-proclaimed channel surfer between Sky Racing and Channel 7 – but for others, a day on the couch won’t substitute a day at the races.
“I’ve saved thousands on no new outfits, no fascinators, no hats, no paying for lunches,” Ms Green said.
“But I’d do it if we could, that’s for sure.
Racing has prevailed through COVID from behind closed doors. Interest in the sport has grown from both a wagering and viewership perspective, thanks in part to the lack of alternatives for sports lovers over the winter.
Sky Racing’s vision via the TAB app was up 44.44 per cent year on year last weekend, while Seven’s racing audience for the first six weekends of the carnival is up about 85 per cent on last year, and those figures don’t include the industry’s own free-to-air Racing.com channel.
But the industry’s challenge will be to engage those social racegoers. While the horse is the hero, it’s the party that draws tens of thousands from around the country to Melbourne.
In 2017, more than 686,000 people attended Melbourne’s three racing carnivals and more than a quarter of those racegoers were interstate travellers.
That delivered more than 314,000 visitor nights in Victoria in commercial accommodation, generating more than $51 million in spending in the accommodation sector and $54 million on fashion items. Unfortunately, those sectors will feel the pain this spring.
Melbourne Racing Club is feeling the pain too. It boasts 13 clubs and hotels, in which it produced over 800,000 meals, poured 1.4 million beers and served over 300,000 glasses of wine last in 2018-19.
Racing clubs have been forced to think on their feet to keep their members engaged.
In lieu of The Birdcage, which will be out of action this Melbourne Cup Carnival, the Victoria Racing Club in conjunction with Lexus has launched a digital hub called “Senses Electrified”, with music, food and fashion tips to enjoy the carnival from home.
“Whilst of course we would love to host crowds at Flemington for Australia’s greatest racing carnival, we know that this year most people will be watching away from the track,” VRC chief executive Neil Wilson said.
“We have been working closely and consistently with our valued sponsors and partners throughout the year and in the lead-up to the Melbourne Cup Carnival to adapt the events and activations we know and love so that everyone can experience the excitement of Cup Week, no matter where they are watching in Australia and around the world.”
All of the clubs are offering hampers and food and wine boxes which can be delivered to home on race day, putting a little bit of sparkle back into the occasion.
“Having those superboxes delivered from the MRC, it’s nice, it just makes it a little bit special,” Ms Green said.
“One of my girlfriends, she organised about 10 girls on Zoom and we did dress up that day. It was a bit of fun actually, it felt like a real race day so that was good. I think that made a difference.”
Meanwhile, minister for racing Martin Pakula continues to work behind the scenes with Victoria’s Chief Health Officer to see if the clubs can host some people on course over the carnival.
“We’re working very closely with the metropolitan clubs on their aspirations for their big spring race days,” Pakula said.
“We’d all love to see connections and maybe some racing fans there during our Group 1 classics, but we don’t want to jeopardise our steady exit from restrictions, nor would we want to put at risk the amazing job racing has done to continue right through this pandemic.”
Ms Green said she appreciated the clubs were doing their best to keep members engaged, but it was the atmosphere of thousands piling through the gates, placing cash bets in the bookies ring and cheering on the horses that she’ll miss.
“Being there at 8am in the morning, I’m usually first or second in the queue … it’s the atmosphere, it’s worth it,” she said.
“Some people will dress up at home but because you’re not even allowed to see each other … I think we’re going to miss all of that [energy].”
Damien Ractliffe is the Chief Racing Reporter for The Age.