Locals back the park at Flemington

Rhonda Dredge

The rose garden at Flemington Racecourse might be closed to the public but the pig face is blooming near the wetlands and locals are taking advantage of the setting.

Mohinder Singh was out walking Tracker during October, something he does two or three times a week.

He is one of many local walkers who now use the grounds for exercise.

The pedestrian gate on Epsom Rd is open until 6pm each night and closed only when a race is being run, a move appreciated by locals.

“During COVID they have been much more accepting of having the pedestrian gate open,” another local dog-walker Rebecca Boster said.

“There’s enough space here that you’re never overrun by other people. It’s a good place for distancing. It’s so serene, so beautiful.”

She said the trail around the pond was popular. “It can get a bit busy but it’s nothing like the Maribrynong.”

Positive experiences by locals on the grounds have helped the Victoria Racing Club improve its standing in the community during difficult times.

“It’s made me think completely differently about the VRC,” Rebecca said. “Could I put up with another Melbourne Cup? The endless helicopters made me grit my teeth.”

“Now I’m a complete convert. They can have the Melbourne Cup and I’ll support it 100 per cent because of their open door policy for locals.”

Gardeners say there have been so many people this year there’s been a bit of damage to the rose garden. Different varieties are pruned so they don’t bloom too early.

The VRC has put up temporary fencing to protect the roses, a spokeswoman told North West City News.

“Last year more than 300 bouquets of Flemington’s roses were delivered to local frontline workers and community organisations to say, ‘thank you’ to those most affected by impacts of COVID-19, which we hope to do again this year,” she said.

Mowers were taking up their position on the straight to get the track in order and construction workers were putting up marquees for Derby Day on October 30, which kicks off the Cup Carnival.

Everyone is hoping that racegoers will get to see the benefit of all this work.

“We have lodged plans with the Victorian Government for a crowd of up to 11,500 for some or all four days of the Melbourne Cup Carnival,” the spokeswoman said.

She said details could not be released until the VRC received feedback from the government. “It’s a really movable situation with COVID-19. There could be changes.”

On October 10, the state government confirmed that up to 10,000 fans would be permitted to attend the Melbourne Cup. The final two days of the Melbourne Cup Carnival – Oaks Day and Stakes Day – will also welcome up to 10,000 patrons if the 80 per cent double-jab threshold has been passed.

“Racing fans will be spread across a number of zones at Flemington in allocated seats and will be required to wear masks and be fully vaccinated or holding a valid exemption,” a state government spokesperson said.

In the meantime, the destination has become such a favourite with locals that some are oblivious to the presence of races at all.

Mohinder did his own race here a couple of years back in a charity marathon clocking in at two hours 15 minutes for 21.5 kilometres. “Actually, I am not knowledgeable about racing,” he said. “I like the park.” •

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