Ireland’s Melbourne Cup contenders to face similar circumstances in 2021

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Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

It may be 10 months away, but Aidan O’Brien, Joseph O’Brien and trainers of Ireland’s other leading Melbourne Cup contenders look set for a repeat of the logistical headache that formed part of the build up to the Race That Stops A Nation last year.

Aidan O’Brien ran the ill-fated Anthony Van Dyck and runner-up Tiger Moth in the showpiece event at Flemington, while son Joseph saddled the winner of the race as Twilight Payment won. He also had Master of Reality come home in 15th place.

Willie Mullins made it a trio of Irish-based trainers represented in the race with Stratum Albion, one of the leading tips for the race by Australian horse racing tips site Bets.com.au, finishing ninth at Flemington.

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There was British representation in the form of placegetter Prince of Arran (third for Charlie Fellowes) and Dashing Willoughby (21st for Andrew Balding) as well as German runner Ashrun, who was 10th for trainer Andreas Wohler.

None of those trainers were present in Australia – as they would normally be for one of the world’s biggest races – due to the state of Victoria being in strict lockdown and the need for 14-day quarantine periods upon arrival during the coronavirus outbreak.

It was a logistical nightmare just getting the runners to the starting barriers in Melbourne, and one that was hoped would be a one off for 2020 only.

But, while crowds have started returning to sports stadiums and tracks in Australia, the ongoing threat of COVID-19 means an ever-changing landscape for border control – not just internationally, but also internally too.

The borders between New South Wales and Victoria are closed at present, making travel between the countries two biggest cities Sydney and Melbourne problematic without quarantining.

And the international border policy of all new arrivals needing to quarantine in hotels for two weeks, at their own expense, looks set to be in place for the remainder of 2021 according to government officials Down Under.

“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in an interview. He added that quarantine requirements would remain “for some time”.

“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus.”

That could mean a similar scenario for the O’Briens, Mullins and any other Irish trainers with a staying handicapper earmarked as a Melbourne Cup contender for 2021.

Exceptions are made for the individuals travelling with the horses to be able to carry out daily duties, but protocols are still strict. Albeit not the 24/7 quarantine for two weeks.

The world’s biggest tennis stars have found that to be the case ahead of the 2021 Australian Open in Melbourne. Those who tested negative on arrival are permitted five hours of training within the complex of their quarantine hotel.

Those who travelled on the same plane as an arrival reporting a positive test have had to undergo the full two-week quarantine, isolated in a hotel room. 

Those policies are likely to remain well into 2021 and could provide a Melbourne Cup headache once again.