Twilight Payment wins Melbourne Cup with no fans at track

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The race that stops a nation also saw tens of thousands of spectators prevented from watching one of the biggest single-day sporting events in Australia.

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 3,200-meter (2-mile) classic at Flemington race track.

Twilight Payment led virtually the entire race. Tiger Moth was second by about half a length and Britain’s Prince of Arran 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.”

It was the first time in the race first held in 1861 that the race was held without spectators. Flemington often attracts a crowd of up to 100,000 on Melbourne Cup day, and last year there were 81,000 in attendance.

But COVID-19 restrictions relaxed only last weekend due to a huge spoke in second-save infections in Victoria state didn’t extend to large crowd sizes. So the Flemington race course was restricted to jockeys, trainers and essential track workers on Tuesday.