The 2021 Lexus Melbourne Cup is likely to be immediately impacted by a review into the race, including the prospect of fewer international horses in this year’s event.
That’s the view of Victoria Racing Club CEO Steve Rosich, who said the investigation into fatalities of horses in the Cup is near completion.
Racing.com understands the report will be released in the last week of April, having been delayed as senior stakeholders finalise their recommendations.
In an interview with Racing.com, Rosich said:
• The club will finally have tough COVID restrictions relaxed for its ANZAC Day meeting, leading to increased crowd capacity
• Revenue during the pandemic for the VRC was down around 30 per cent, “in the $50 million range”
• The club is supportive of moving the Australian Cup in 2022
• Rapid Racing will continue in the summer, but the date moved to coincide with the school holidays
Rosich, who was drafted into the VRC job in late 2021, said the removal of COVID restrictions is a boom for the club, which will also include the abolishing of zones, allowing crowds to move around the track.
“We have played a lead role in presenting a race day which is COVID safe. The feedback we get from health authorities is we are the gold standard in presenting an event. Pleasingly, that allows us now to move to a one zone environment,” he said.
“A very traditional, normal race day where we can have crowds up to 15,000 in the interim and building into the spring in an environment that doesn’t have different zones. We are really looking forward to that on ANZAC Day. It will be the first time we have done that in over a year.”
The former Fremantle Football Club CEO said the club has an “attendance driven business model” which was obviously hit last year.
But Rosich said membership “had remained strong” with a retention rate of around 90 per cent. He also paid tribute to his board and staff for ensuring the club battled through a rough 2021.
“We are expecting (revenue) turnover would be around about 30 per cent down on our normal turnover, simply because we haven’t had the crowds that we could have here at Flemington,” he said.
“It’s mutli millions of dollars, in that sort of $50m range. Hopefully we can continue to mitigate that. We have managed our costs accordingly. We’ve had great support from our media partners, corporate partners and members, who have really engaged with the club this year despite not getting to Flemington as often as possible.”
A recent meeting with each club’s CEO and Racing Victoria saw each pitch a series of changes to this year’s Spring Carnival and next year’s Autumn Carnival.
Those changes will be presented to the board at Racing Victoria’s next meeting.
Rosich said the VRC are now supportive of a push to move the TAB Australian Cup to give a two week gap between the All-Star Mile.
“I think I mentioned it to Racing.com a few weeks back that we’ve made an application to have three race days in the autumn, across 5, 12 and 19 March. We think there’s an opportunity to rejig that program, to showcase Flemington as the premier race track. Maybe there is an opportunity to reposition some of those core races,” he said.
“Positioning is an important discussion. I think Michael Browell indicated his preference for the ASM to be two weeks before the Australian Cup and I think that makes perfect sense. We look forward to engaging in that debate, having three elite race days at this wonderful venue in the autumn.”
But the most pressing issue for the club is the future of the Lexus Melbourne Cup.
Rosich said the work was “leading edge” but said it’s possible there will be less international horses as a result.
But he also believes some international trainers will be supportive of the changes.
“We have a duty to make sure that those international runners have a framework they can operate in that ensures that they compete safely. That’s what the intent of this work is. There will be international runners, there always will be. It’s a premier race meeting on the global stage. But there might be a few less runners due to some of the arrangements put in place and that’s fine, it’s understood,” he said.
“RV have done a comprehensive review and it’s getting near the completion of that. They have engaged with us very strongly. Not only with Vin Cox, one of our directors, as part of that process directly, but we’ve fed into that process proactively.
“They have listened and they have certainly taken some of our thoughts and questions on board as part of that review, in addition to the broader industry.
“I’m pleased with the work they have done to date.
“It’s almost come to a conclusion and we are hoping that announced in April, perhaps a little bit later than first intended but the work has been comprehensive and engaged with numerous stakeholders not only here in Australia but also overseas.
“It’s important we make the Lexus Melbourne Cup not only the greatest race in this country, but the safest. That work is well under way.”