Concerns over a Covid scare over a boozy luncheon involving a number of top trainers has left a question mark over Melbourne’s spring race carnival.
A group of top Victoria coaches have become entangled in an alleged Covid rule violation that threatens to disrupt Melbourne’s spring race carnival.
The Racing Victoria integrity team has been notified of a potentially illegal long lunch near Ballarat.
It is alleged that at least a dozen people — mostly trainers — attended the boozy function at Tuki Trout Farm in Smeaton last Thursday.
Racing Victoria is investigating as the latest scandal threatens to shut down an industry that has fought hard to stay open.
A number of Ballarat trainers resigned on Thursday evening after two lunch visitors were identified as close contacts of a person awaiting a Covid test.
“As a result, the other trainers who attended the luncheon were identified as secondary contacts and asked not to come to their stables on Friday morning pending the outcome of that test,” a Racing Victoria spokesman said.
“They were all allowed to return to licensed buildings and racecourses on Friday night.”
But Racing Victoria is still investigating the circumstances surrounding the lunchtime and whether Covid protocols have been violated.
Figureheads from leading Ballarat stables, including senior members of Ciaron Maher Racing and the Tony and Calvin McEvoy stable, attended the meeting.
News Corp has confirmed that head coach Ciaron Maher himself was not involved.
But a Melbourne Cup winning trainer attended the organized function.
The crew is known to have traveled and dined together for several hours.
Racing Victoria said it was aware of allegations that the number of attendees at the long lunch “may have exceeded the rules in regional Victoria, allowing 10 indoor dinners”.
The racing industry – which has worked hard to stay open – could be at risk of shutdown due to ongoing Covid breaches.
Race chiefs will be forced to take firm action if rules are broken over the long luncheon given the severe sanctions recently imposed on the ‘Airbnb five’ jockeys.
Some of Victoria’s top jockeys – including Jamie Kah, Mark Zahra and Ben Melham – were hit with a late spring carnival ban after the Mornington Peninsula house party.
After that drama, a furious Racing Victoria chief Giles Thompson said: “We have no God-given right to race”.
Pending investigations, further abolition could be imposed, which would disrupt the operations of the stables while still allowing horses to compete.
The incident comes six days after the $2 million Caulfield Guineas.
The $5 million Caulfield Cup is on Saturday, October 16.
News Corp reached out to Racing Victoria last week following a tip from another trainer not involved in the luncheon over possible breaches by operators at Ballarat or Caulfield.
The latest blatant breach infuriated entrants across the state, given the industry’s efforts to ensure racing would continue during the pandemic.
The investigation is likely to be expanded on Monday.
Maher and co-trainer David Eustace have dominated the Victorian race for the past three seasons, while team McEvoy is currently third in the premiership.
Tuki Trout Farm declined to comment.
Originally published as Racing Victoria explores long lunch with leading stable figureheads, Covid close contacts