Even though group events leading up to the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival have been staged over the last month or so, Australia’s most successful racing carnival really gets under way at Flemington tomorrow.

Punters – even those who bet only in Melbourne Cup week – will be following tomorrow’s races carefully because the form from the Turnbull Stakes meeting, and the three weekends that follow, is generally regarded as the best guide to the Melbourne Cup and other major events such as the VRC Derby and the VRC Oaks.

But outside the usual attention on horse flesh, there will be a lot of people watching this year to see how the Carnival as a whole travels without its biggest star, Makybe Diva. The Diva won the Turnbull Stakes a year ago before creating racing history by winning a third successive Melbourne Cup. (The runner-up in the Turnbull last year, Lad of the Manor, is one of the favourites for tomorrow’s Group One event.)

But Makybe Diva has now retired, and with her has gone much of the sparkle from the Carnival. She was a true darling of the public, and her tilt at history last year generated huge interest and brought in thousands of non-racing fans. There will be plenty of anxious people in racing watching crowds, betting results and TV audiences over the next few weeks to see how the carnival travels without her presence.

To make matters worse, the best of the local hopes for the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup, the highly-rated Eremein, is reported to be unlikely to race again this year because of a mystery ailment, leaving this year’s Carnival potentially short of glam appeal.

As the Melbourne Carnival steps up a notch, Sydney’s much less impressive Spring Carnival reaches its climax with three group one races at the AJC’s Royal Randwick, including the Epsom and the Metropolitan.

But the minds of the AJC members this week have been focused firmly on a rather undignified election contest for the AJC Committee, with vice-chairman Noel Bracks being targeted mainly on age grounds (he is 72). Nothing like a good old electioneering stoush to get the members outraged.

Peter Fray

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