By Madison Scott
I was fortunate to attend the Cox Plate in October this year, my first trip to Moonee Valley Racecourse. The Cox Plate Carnival kicked off on Oct. 27, a Friday night, with the G1 Manikato S. headlining an evening of eight races run under lights with the feature held the next day.
Immediately upon walking onto the apron at The Valley, I had concluded it was the best racecourse I had ever visited. Friends of mine arrived at the same determination within minutes, one stating that it was the perfect racecourse.
Want more young people to go racing? Replicate Moonee Valley Friday nights.
The atmosphere was electric. Think Friday Night Lights–it felt more like a football stadium than a track. The viewing lawn was well graded so that it was easy to see the course from most spots. A tight track, short straight and multiple grandstands made the course feel enclosed and intimately close to the action. Races were held every 30 minutes rather than the standard 45, making for a quick tempo.
The Valley was a party. Neon lights lit up the railing of the winner’s enclosure. Pitbull’s “Don’t Stop the Party” played intermittently through the night as the jumbotron flashed “Valley Time.” When the horses were about to break, “Jump Around” played as the text “Jump Time” bounced around on the screen. Replace the bottles of champagne with beer, and you’d think you were at a football game.
One of The Valley’s excellent touches was the 55 Second Challenge: a series of 955-meter dashes held over the course of the Friday Night Lights season. The objective is to win in under 55 seconds, with the trainer of the fastest-heat winner receiving a A$55,000 check. It is a simple contest of pure speed that is exhilarating and easy for the audience to understand and get behind.
But Moonee Valley had the privilege of an engaged audience nonetheless. When Chautauqua was announced as a late scratch from the Manikato S., the crowd let out boos and cries like I’ve never heard at a racecourse. Patrons wearing Winx hats were strewn throughout the crowd and there was plenty of chat about her Cox Plate run the next day.
Behind the grandstand there were food trucks, offering a variety of very good and cheap meals. Alcohol was reasonably priced and lines moved quickly. On the apron, a cover band played between races. Plenty of merchandise, including Winx shirts, jackets, hats and polos, was available in the gift shop. The lights stayed on and the party continued on course for an hour after the last, when the track finally shut down for the night.
Attendance on the evening was 11,805, a record for Manikato night, no doubt boosted by the Cox Plate the following day and lovely weather. I don’t know how far off the norm the meeting on Oct. 27 was compared to a standard Friday night, but the track did things right that evening.
If I were a casual fan, not engaged in the sport, Moonee Valley would hands-down be the best racing experience of my life. Nothing else comes close. At the end of the night, my only complaints were that the gift shop ran out of Winx hats and that there was no Snapchat filter.
Night racing has its drawbacks, particularly for horsemen involved, and the track has negatives as a racecourse. But I have never seen a crowd as young and vibrant as the group at Moonee Valley on Oct. 27. The electricity and spirit in the atmosphere was certainly contagious and nearly tangible. The Valley did an exceptional job with the evening–it is a course model that should be noted and replicated.