BENDIGO Jockey Club is expecting a bumper crowd for its first cup meeting to be held with spectators in attendance since 2019 this Wednesday.
The club's premier event has been run with empty grandstands for the past two years due to COVID restrictions.
But BJC chairman Jack Lyons is hoping it's a case of absence making the heart grow fonder as the club prepares to roll out the welcome mat to racegoers.
"We're set up to handle somewhere between 7000 and 10,000 people," he said.
"We've made some changes because of the amount of rain we have had. We have moved a lot of the marquees back off the course proper to help with the lawn.
"But everything is open, there are no areas that are closed off to anyone. Of course, you will need a pass to get into a corporate area, but the lawns will be open and all the bars will be open. We are ready to go.
"They are talking 20 degrees and mostly fine days Tuesday and Wednesday, which will definitely help with drying things out.
"There are nine races .... it's building to be a fantastic day."
Lyons conceded this month's heavy rainfall had provided club officials with more than a few anxious moments, but he was confident everything would be in good order come Wednesday.
That includes the racetrack, which is in great shape after the club's beach party race day meeting was transferred to Ballarat Synthetic on October 15.
"We nearly could have raced the other day, the track dries out that well," Lyons said.
"So we will definitely be racing, albeit it will likely be a heavy track.
"We had the Seymour Cup here a few weeks ago and we started with a heavy 10 two days prior, but on race day we were down to a soft six and by race three we were down to a five.
"So the track presents really well."
The track is currently rated a soft six.
After being without a cup day crowd in 2020 and 2021, Lyons was sensing plenty of enthusiasm from people around Bendigo about getting back to the races.
"We are getting a lot of comments. The City of Greater Bendigo has helped us by flying the tall flags at the lake and each major entry point to Bendigo," he said.
"A lot of people have mentioned that, so they know the cup is coming and they can actually go to one.
"So there's a bit of hype around."
Despite no cup day crowd since 2019, Lyons said the club had emerged from the COVID pandemic in good shape with racing one of the few industries to continue during Victoria's many lockdowns.
"Aaron Hearps, our former CEO, retired from the club in July this year, and we have a new CEO starting in December, but in the interim Sue Opie has been the acting CEO," he said.
"She has taken the reins and all the staff has got on board with her and they are doing a fantastic job, especially with the challenges we have had around the weather.
"We've lost two meetings to rain in the last few months, but they have pulled everything together.
"Everyone around the racecourse has a spring in their step and is looking forward to cup day."
Focus for the BJC will now turn to acceptances for Wednesday's meeting, in particular the field for the $500,000 Group 3 Bendigo Cup (2400m).
Lyons was encouraged by the attention from major stables, including Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, Chris Waller and Robert Hickmott, who were well represented in the cup nominations.
He was hopeful all three would have at least one cup runner after some of their horses featured in Saturday's Group 2 Moonee Valley Gold Cup, won by the Waller-trained Francesco Guardi, while others will target races at Flemington either this Saturday or on Melbourne Cup day.
The BJC has its fingers crossed Bendigo trainer Matthew Enright will get a cup start with Wertheimer, who is coming off a second in this month's Horsham Cup.
He would be the first locally-trained Bendigo Cup runner since 2020.
A big race day will include plenty of live entertainment, including a band after the last race, and the popular fashions on the fields, which will be held on the lawn behind the main grandstand.
Sure to be a drawcard for horse enthusiasts, the day will feature an appearance by retired eight-time Group 1 winning sprinter Apache Cat.
Free buses will run from Bendigo train station from 10.30am to 1pm and from the racecourse from 4.30pm to 6.30pm after the races.
Gates open at 10.30am on Wednesday, with the first of nine races at 12.30pm.
Everyone around the racecourse has a spring in their step and is looking forward to cup day.- BJC chairman Jack Lyons
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