Twilight Payment wins Melbourne Cup with no fans at track

The race that stops a nation also saw tens of thousands of spectators prevented from attending one of the biggest single-day sporting events in Australia.

But like a familiar refrain in 2020, blame COVID-19.

Irish-bred Twilight Payment, ridden by Jye McNeil and trained by Irishman Joseph O’Brien, gave Australian Lloyd Williams his seventh win in the Melbourne Cup.

Twilight Payment led virtually the entire race in the 3,200-meter (2-mile) classic at Flemington. Tiger Moth was second by about half a length and Britain’s Prince of Arran placed third for the third consecutive year.

Tiger Moth was trained by Joseph O’Brien’s father, Aidan. The younger O’Brien won his first Melbourne Cup in 2017 when Rekindling beat Johannes Vermeer, trained by his father.

“Just too many emotions, a very good moment,” McNeil said after crossing the line in first. “All my family watching from home, unfortunately they couldn’t be here. But I’m not worried about the empty grandstands at all. This has been a dream of mine since Day One.”

The race was marred by a horse — 2019 Epsom Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck — breaking down early in the race and having to be euthanized. It was the seventh horse since 2013 to be put down after racing in the Melbourne Cup.

Anthony Van Dyck, ridden by veteran jockey Hugh Bowman, broke down at the 400-meter mark and had to be euthanized. Tiger Moth’s stablemate had carried top weight. Anthony Van Dyck raced 19 times in five countries and collected five other wins to go alongside his English Derby triumph.

“It is with sadness that we confirm that Anthony Van Dyck had to be humanely euthanized after sustaining a fractured fetlock,” Racing Victoria spokesman Jamie Stier said. “The horse received immediate veterinary care, however he was unable to be saved due to the nature of the injury sustained.

“Our sympathies are extended to the owners of Anthony Van Dyck, trainer Aidan O’Brien and all his staff who cared for the horse and are greatly saddened by their loss.”

Bowman was not injured in the accident.

It was the first time in the race first held in 1861 that the Melbourne Cup was held without spectators. Flemington often attracts a crowd of up to 100,000 for the event.

But Melbourne is only just coming out of lockdown following a spike in second-wave COVID-19 infections in Victoria state and the easing of restrictions didn’t extend to large crowd sizes. So the Flemington race course was restricted to jockeys, trainers and essential track workers on Tuesday.

McNeil increased the pace from the 1,000-meter mark and sent his mount out to a clear advantage late in the race.

From there, McNeil said he was confident Twilight Payment could keep the momentum going despite Tiger Moth and Prince Of Arran closing hard.

“I was confident. I was trying not to use the whip too many times,” said McNeil, a winner in his first Melbourne Cup ride.

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