An update for Owners on COVID-19 challenge

I’m pleased to again be delivering this monthly update to all our owners in the knowledge that racing and training has been able to safely continue in Victoria.

Last Saturday’s meeting at Flemington featured the 1000th race conducted here since the introduction of biosecurity protocols back on 13 March 2020.

This is a fantastic achievement by all within our industry, particularly in the context of what’s happened globally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Driving us throughout has been the objectives of protecting the 25,000 full-time equivalent jobs that Victorian racing underpins and ensuring that all horses receive ongoing care and attention.

None of this would have been achievable without the continued support of our 75,000-strong owner base and for that I want to again express our sincere gratitude for your commitment and dedication.

In simple terms, your investment in racing has helped keep people in jobs right across Victoria and for that I say thank you.

As I’ve stated previously, we know that sharing your ownership experience with family and friends; patting your horse and cheering it on trackside provides a sense of great enjoyment, passion and pride for all.

That has not been achievable in these unprecedented and challenging times and I understand that comes as a source of growing frustration for some.

We are alive to this point and are greatly appreciative of the support, understanding and cooperation that we’ve received from owners over the past three months.  

Rest assured, there are daily conversations taking place with Government and key industry stakeholders on how the industry can rebound from this crisis and a plot a path back towards normality.

This includes an ongoing review of our biosecurity protocols in the context of the directives and advice afforded by Government and health authorities.

To that end, I wanted to provide you with an update on key areas of interest to owners, including any potential return of crowds, stable visits, prizemoney and the 2020 Spring Racing Carnival as follows:

Return of Crowds

I had hoped to be in a position to provide a more definitive update on a date for the return of crowds to Victorian racing, but alas at the time of penning this it remains an ongoing discussion with the Victorian Government.

As it stands, we’ve been actively working on a return to crowds framework with our Clubs, based on the directives, guidelines and advice provided by the Government and Chief Health Officers.

As you’re likely aware, the number of active cases and the rules around social restrictions are different in Victoria to other states so this has rightly influenced our progress and options to date.

As an example, 50 people are allowed to enter a Pub or Club in New South Wales today and use the TAB facilities within whilst having a meal. In Victoria, that cap sits at 20 with the TAB off limits. This will remain so until at least 22 June. 

Whilst we are keen to get people back on track as soon as possible, with owners and members a priority, we will have to do so in a cautious way to ensure that it doesn’t compromise the safe continuation of racing in any way.

That means we’re likely to initially have the racecourse split into different areas where owners and other attendees are precluded from direct engagement with trainers, jockeys and stable staff, as we saw occur in other states last weekend.

At this time, we’re hopeful of being able to welcome some owners and members back on track in early July and the next 10 days will ultimately determine what is achievable and indeed whether we can do that any sooner.

As soon as we have some definitive information on this we will write to all owners again and advise accordingly. 

Stable Visits

Parallel to recent discussions around the possible return of crowds on raceday, we have received some enquiries from owners and trainers as to when stable visits can resume.

Under current circumstances, we are going to take a more cautious approach to this given the segregation of participants and attendees – as is likely to initially occur on racedays – is unrealistic in the stabling environment.

As we’ve seen with the reporting of new cases of COVID-19 in Victoria throughout this week, there remains a risk of a positive case forcing the partial or full shutdown of a training centre and we need to do everything in our power to prevent this.

To that end, we are not forecasting any immediate change to the ban on stable visitors, however we will continue to review this on an ongoing basis mindful of the desire of owners to get back and visit their horse.

Prizemoney Update

Early in the pandemic we were forced to make some tough decisions to safeguard the industry in the short to medium term, including reductions in prizemoney of 20% for metropolitan races and 10% for country races.

I can advise you that the Racing Victoria Board will review the current reductions and consider the prizemoney for the 2020 Spring Racing Carnival at the end of this month. 

The Board wants to ensure that it has as much data as possible around the current and future financial impacts of the pandemic before making any decisions on prizemoney in the second half of 2020. 

As noted previously, our returns from the VicTAB Joint Venture have been significantly impacted during the pandemic through the absence of sport and international racing and the closure of pubs, clubs and agencies.

It will be critical to see how our VicTAB returns and overall wagering trends fare throughout June as professional sports and international racing return and this will be among the considerations for the Board.

We expect to make an announcement on future prizemoney by the first week of July.

2020 Spring Racing Carnival

By now you will be across the decision of the Racing Victoria Board to retain the existing feature race program and dates for the 2020 Spring Racing Carnival.

If you haven’t read our media release of last Friday, 5 June outlining the details and reasoning, I encourage you to do so by clicking here.

There has obviously been much debate about the Board’s decision which reflects the variety of opinions articulated across the numerous submissions they received and considered.

The Spring Racing Carnival is one of the world’s most successful racing events and an incredible asset for the state of Victoria. 

Putting the manner in which some opinions have been articulated to one side, it is very heartening to see the passion that still exists for the Spring Racing Carnival and we look forward to harnessing that in this unique year.

As it was, the Board ultimately determined that, in an environment with continued uncertainty, retaining the existing structure this year was in the best overall interests of Victorian racing and its stakeholders. 

Among the Board’s key considerations were the unclear timeline for the easing of social restrictions and the potential for large gatherings; the varied views of key stakeholders including wagering operators; the likely impact of substantial change on the local and national pattern of feature races throughout 2020-21; the need to maintain an exceptional standard of racing; and the role of key broadcast, commercial and media partnerships. 

This decision does not mean that the format of the Spring Racing Carnival is committed to stone in perpetuity. 

As witnessed with recent changes such as the introduction of two-day Cox Plate Carnival and Group 1 racing under lights; the movement of traditional Group 1 races like the Mackinnon Stakes and Thousand Guineas; and the introduction of a standalone Saturday Ballarat Cup meeting, that changes can and will occur. 

The considerations around this year’s Spring Racing Carnival has provided some great ideas that we can continue to discuss as an industry and feed into Racing Australia’s upcoming review of the national pattern of feature races which is a much welcomed project.

For now, we look forward to all within the industry working together to ensure that the 2020 Spring Racing Carnival is the best that it can possibly be in a unique and compromised year.

Importantly for owners, we’re pleased to retain all feature races conducted in the 2019 Spring Racing Carnival, which includes 21 Group 1 races and 26 country cups. The opportunities will remain plentiful and rewarding in Victoria this spring.

The 2020 Spring Racing Carnival will officially commence with the Group 1 Memsie Stakes meeting at Caulfield on Saturday, 29 August and conclude with the Ballarat Cup meeting on Saturday, 21 November.


In closing, I want to again acknowledge our intention to provide you with a further update at the earliest opportunity on the return of crowds and prizemoney.

In the meantime, thanks again to all owners for their continued support of Victorian racing and I wish you every success on the racetrack.

Giles Thompson
Chief Executive
Racing Victoria