UPDATE: After massive backlash, the Victorian government has backtracked on its decision to allow up to 1,000 people to gather at the Cox Plate carnival this weekend.

In a tweet made hours after the initial announcement, Racing Minister Martin Pakula said the decision had been reversed.

“I apologise for any upset that has been caused,” he added.

The original article continues below.

The Victorian government is allowing up to 1,000 people to gather at the same time at the Cox Plate carnival this Saturday, which will be the 100th edition of one of the biggest horse races in Australia.

On Tuesday afternoon, it was announced that in addition to essential staff at the Mooney Valley racecourse, up to 500 “connections” of the competing horses will be allowed into the venue.

“This will give connections the chance to see their horses compete under strict health protocols,” Victorian Racing Minister Martin Pakula said in a statement.

“The change has been closely considered by health officials, who will monitor the implementation of the plan to ensure the health and wellbeing of everyone involved.”

The reasoning behind the change is that horse owners and their connections are now considered as having a “business need” on the day of the Cox Plate carnival.

Because of that, they won’t be violating the Chief Health Officer’s directions, which only allow up to 10 people from two households to gather outdoors under normal, non-business circumstances.

The government said the venue will still have to enforce social distancing and have a COVIDSafe plan, and that horse owners and connections won’t be allowed anywhere near the mounting yard and horse stalls in order to keep contact with workers to a minimum.

Moonee Valley Racing Club CEO Michael Browell said he’s “delighted” by the announcement and implied owners might be allowed in staggered intervals.

Food and drinks will also be served at the event, but there won’t be any seated dining. A registration process is expected to be set up on the racing club’s website in the coming days.

There’ll also be a time limit set for how long horse owners can hang around the whole venue, but the exact number is yet to be determined.

“We have taken the advice of the Chief Health Officer – I know that connections will follow the lead of jockeys, trainers and stable workers and follow all protocols to the letter,” Pakula added.

Normally, the Moonee Valley Racing Club can hold up to 38,000 punters, staff and horse owners for the annual Cox Plate carnival.

While this 1,000 person cap is way less than the carnivals of previous years, it’s still much larger than pretty much anything else going on in Victoria at the moment.

Despite all the shit that’s happened this year, the race will go on, which says a lot about the Victorian government’s priorities when it comes to opening back up.

Image: Getty Images / Mark Evans