Progress with vaccinations in Australia is likely to see a crowd – albeit a relatively small one – of 11,500 attend the 2021 Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse on November 2.
There were fears that the country's biggest horse racing event could be staged behind closed doors for the second year running having been spectator-less when Twilight Payment won for Ireland in 2020.
But with Australia now approaching an 80% vaccination rate for Covid-19, Flemington officials have revealed that a crowd of 11,500 is expected at the very least when the Race That Stops A Nation is run on the first Tuesday in November.
A well thought out plan that focuses on social distancing means that the Victoria Racing Club have come up with crowd control that will see the 11,500 racegoers attend inside five separate zones at Flemington on 2021 Melbourne Cup Day.
It is a far cry from the 80,000-100,000 spectators who typically flood through the gates of Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day.
"We will be able to accommodate the 11,500 across five zones," Victoria Racing Club CEO Steve Rosich said. "It's up to about 3500 per zone and a minimum of a couple of thousand per zone.
"We are really lucky in a way that there's such diversity of facility available, including picnic pods on the lawn to quality restaurants that we can cater members and guests with.
"There is a lot of work that goes into it (getting crowds in and out safely), but we are prepared to invest in that work because we see the commitment is to be ready to deliver for not only the state, the industry and the club."
With the Covid-19 situation in Australia, plans will remain fluid over the next month ahead of the running of the most prestigious race on the horse racing calendar. The permitted crowd could yet increase on the back of a positive wind.
One thing that is certain is that the global pandemic has once again had an impact on the international contenders with the travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in Australia resulting in a halving of the number of gallopers heading to Melbourne.
In 2020, when the Joseph O'Brien-trained Twilight Payment came out on top to become the ninth international winner of the race, the Melbourne Cup attracted 30 overseas entries despite the complications of travel.
This year, however, that number has halved to just 15 with the closed borders of Australia a significant factor and the need for staff members and trainers to quarantine for 14 days after arrival. The list of 2021 Melbourne Cup contenders does include the defending champion, who is one of four entries for O'Brien.
There was a record 50 overseas entries in 2018, including the winner that year Cross Counter, before dropping to 39 in 2019. The number reduced again as Covid-19 struck and it has slumped to just 15 this year.
Will the world coming out of the pandemic next year see the Melbourne Cup regain its lustre among the internationals in 2022?