‘Not a single horse booked’ to travel from overseas to Melbourne for spring carnival

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One hundred days out from the Melbourne Cup Carnival, no international horses have been booked to fly to Australia as the Victoria Racing Club prepares for yet another unique Cup week.

Last year’s Melbourne Cup was run and won by Irish galloper Twilight Payment in front of an empty Flemington grandstand, and with Melbourne currently in lockdown due to COVID-19 restrictions, the VRC finds itself in a holding pattern just months out from its marquee race days, for which the club hopes to host crowds of up to 60,000.

Irish thoroughbred Twilight Payment, ridden by Jye McNeil, wins the Melbourne Cup in 2020.Credit:Getty

But international racehorse transport company IRT has not yet had a single booking for its two flights from Europe to Tullamarine, when in past years it would have double-figure confirmations this far out from the spring carnival.

“None. Not a horse,” IRT’s director of operations Lachlan Ford said when asked how many bookings he had.

“You’d probably [normally] have a list in the double digits this time of year, but there’s literally not a single horse booked.

“There’s interest from a [Andrew] Balding runner and I know Willie Mullins is keen because he’s always supported the carnival, but that’s about it.”

New veterinary requirements imposed on the internationals by Racing Victoria and the VRC following the death of Anthony Van Dyck in last year’s Cup have severely impacted interest from overseas, according to Ford, as well as Australia’s tough COVID-19 regulations.

“One [reason] is the new veterinary requirements, but also Australia’s stance on COVID is different to the rest of the world’s,” Ford said.

“The thought of having to send staff down for two weeks before the horses get here to do quarantine is not that easy because it’s not easy to get a hotel slot and the availability of flights, and [the spring carnival is also] against other international competition.

“You can fly to America for the Breeders’ Cup or you can fly to Hong Kong and you don’t have the same restrictions placed on you.”

Willie Mullins, trainer of True Self, is one of the few international trainers who have expressed interest to travel.Credit:Getty Images

Last year 29 horses flew to Australia despite the quarantine protocols and before Racing Victoria’s new veterinary requirements were imposed.

Racing Victoria has this year brought the Melbourne and Caulfield Cup nominations date forward by two weeks, so Ford said he was unlikely to have any more clarity on whether horses would book to fly to Melbourne before the August 3 nominations deadline.

Meanwhile, the VRC is maintaining its hope of hosting crowds of up to 60,000 on each of the four days, despite Melbourne’s current lockdown.

By some time in August, the club will need to confirm its marquee numbers and begin setting up multiple zones at Flemington to host crowds, meaning the clock is ticking on its bid to host racegoers.

“One hundred days out from the 2021 Melbourne Cup Carnival, we’re continuing to plan for a 60,000 per day carnival and we’re working closely with the government authorities to secure approval for that plan and then promote that to our members and the marketplace in August,” VRC chief executive Steve Rosich said.

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