By Bren O'Brien
The iconic Melbourne Cup carnival at Flemington is set for its biggest shake-up in a generation with the Victoria Racing Club seriously considering changing VRC Oaks day to a twilight meeting.
VRC chairman Amanda Elliott is leading a push to change the format of Oaks Day, with a later start and fewer races the centrepiece of a view to capitalising on the hospitality assets the club has built through the recent construction of the Club Stand.
"This desire to do something different with Oaks Day has not come about because Oaks day is in anyway, bad or broken," she told RSN's Racing Ahead.
"It is the fourth biggest raceday in Australian racing. It’s more about the evolution of the day into something a little different." - VRC chairman, Amanda Elliott
"It is the fourth biggest raceday in Australian racing. It’s more about the evolution of the day into something a little different."
"To have perhaps less racing, to start it a bit later, to be aware that people go to work in the morning, but maybe want to do a fabulous afternoon at Flemington, going into an evening."
"We've got these wonderful facilities now. The sky is the limit when we think about what we can do."
"I think Oaks Day, which is a wonderful day, a beautiful day, which would still have the tradition of being Ladies' Day, might be a little different."
Analysis already underway
The concept has moved far beyond being a board-room thought-bubble, with Racing Victoria already conducting analysis on the likely impact of the change.
Racing Victoria's General Manager of International and Racing Operations, Paul Bloodworth, said discussions had been ongoing with the VRC's Executive General Manager of Racing, Leigh Jordon.
"It’s something we have been talking with Leigh Jordon about for a little while now. We are open to looking at it and we are conducting some analysis on wagering for Leigh at the moment on a reduced six or seven race program," Bloodworth said.
With Oaks Day being responsible for up to $80 million of wagering turnover, the impact of a reduction in the number of races on the industry's bottom line is something that warrants further analysis.
"We are open to looking at it and we are conducting some analysis on wagering for Leigh at the moment on a reduced six or seven race program." - General Manager of International and Racing Operations, Paul Bloodworth
Bloodworth said RV, which extended all Saturday meetings to a nine-race minimum four years ago, was keeping an open mind.
"Our initial thoughts are that it would probably lead to a reduction in wagering but wagering is not everything and if the VRC can build a new event around the day, with changes to the way the meeting is run during Cup week, with a later start and less races, maybe some other events, then we’d be happy to look at it," Bloodworth said.
Meanwhile, Elliott believes wagering levels would be maintained with a less-is-more approach on Oaks Day.
"As long as the racing is high quality, and the field sizes are big, the wagering will come." - Amanda Elliott
"A lot of people believe that the more races you run, the more wagering and I'm sure on some days that’s right," she said.
"But I think at the big events, if you've got this premium racing and these premium races there is a pool that will be distributed among those races no matter how many you have got."
"As long as the racing is high quality, and the field sizes are big, the wagering will come."
Getting the broadcasters on board
The other significant factor is the attitude of the VRC's new broadcast partner, Network Ten, which takes over the free-to-air broadcast of the famous carnival from next year.
"They are receptive of a fresh look at what Cup week can be, not just in a presentation sense, but all-year round," Elliott said.
"You just need the will to do it and the will to make the Victorian landscape the best it can be." - Amanda Elliott
Elliott said Network Ten's owners, CBS, are keen to see an innovative approach to the presentation of racing and that a change of schedule on the Thursday would fit that model.
Should the stars align, then the change could take place as soon as 2019, with Bloodworth saying final details would need to be known by around mid-year for scheduling and budgeting purposes.
Elliott has every faith that the VRC can get the right people together to make a positive change.
"Anything can be done, you just need the bodies that are involved in the decision, and obviously it has to be ideas coming from us that are then passed through in a programming sense to RV. You just need the bodies to get on board," she said.
"You just need the will to do it and the will to make the Victorian landscape the best it can be. I don't think there is any doubt that the VRC and Flemington sits at the heart of that."