The Melbourne Cup is about everyday people and not celebrities, Victoria’s premier says, as model Megan Gale joins a list of stars to shun the race amid animal cruelty claims.
The 44-year-old has been a regular among the marquees at Flemington for many years but offered no explanation as to why she won’t attend next week when she announced her absence on Thursday.
It follows last month’s withdrawal of US singer Taylor Swift and actress Lana Condor who last week pulled the plug on her attendance, both citing scheduling issues.
But Premier Daniel Andrews doesn’t care about the trackside celebrity headcount.
“The Melbourne Cup is not about so-called big celebs visiting us,” he told reporters.
“It’s about ordinary, hard-working Victorian families who will be there in record numbers and many hundreds of thousands more who will watch the race that stops the nation.
“The Spring Carnival is an extremely important part of our major events calendar.”
Mr Andrews is not attending the event himself, but said that has nothing to do with police bracing for an increased number of protesters outside Flemington Racecourse.
Activists from the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses are planning to make themselves heard outside the gates each day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, as well as during Monday’s Melbourne Cup parade.
The group said it’s been inundated with support since ABC’s 7.30 program broadcast footage last week of racehorses being sent to a slaughterhouse and allegations of animal cruelty at the facility.
Mr Andrews stressed horse welfare is taken very seriously in all codes of racing, pointing to Racing Victoria this week announcing a $25 million boost to fund an expanded welfare program.
Dating app Bumble is the only carnival sponsor to make a donation to the program, pledging $130,000.
“We were heartbroken by what we saw on the 7.30 report,” spokeswoman Michelle Battersby said.
“I don’t think we were in a position where we could ignore that.”
Federal Greens MP Adam Bandt said even people who enjoy the races are increasingly worried about how animals are treated behind the scenes.
A royal commission into the racing industry could resolve the issue, he added.
“What seems on the face of it to be a good day out for everyone is actually built on a lot of cruelty,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
The Andrews government also faced heat from Victorian Greens MP Tim Read in parliament, for allowing racehorses to be whipped.
Racing Minister Martin Pakula said whether horses are whipped is a matter for Racing Australia, as the issue needs to be dealt with nationally.