Racing fans all set for Ludlow and Lingfield on Wednesday
Spectators are to go racing again in England on Wednesday after the British government relaxed its coronavirus restrictions, with Ludlow and Lingfield expected to be the first to welcome crowds and major fixtures at Sandown, Cheltenham and Kempton among those that could also echo with the sounds of punters in coming weeks.
Crowds of up to 2,000 or 50 per cent of capacity, whichever is lower, are permitted in areas under Tier 2 restrictions, with 35 racecourses situated in those regions.
Haydock and Kempton also host racing on Wednesday and are able to welcome racegoers, but their owner, Jockey Club Racecourses, has yet to confirm whether it will open the tracks to the public immediately.
Racing will continue behind closed doors with only owners allowed to attend at another 16 tracks, having been placed in the strictest Tier 3 protocols by the government, while there are no courses in the Tier 1 areas of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.
The new rules will allow spectators to attend major racedays such as Sandown’s Tingle Creek meeting and Cheltenham’s International fixture, although a tough code of conduct for those attending has been drawn up by the Racecourse Association (RCA), which includes the wearing of face coverings and enforcement of social distancing.
The safe return of crowds has been among the most important objectives of the RCA since racing resumed in Britain on June 1, with the organisation estimating courses were in line to lose up to £300 million in revenue due to the impact of Covid-19.
RCA chief executive David Armstrong hopes racecourses can start the process of rebuilding and recovering in earnest from next week. He said: “The RCA has consistently said throughout the pandemic that bringing back spectators at the earliest safe opportunity was our priority.
“We are now in a position to do that, albeit in small numbers to start with, and begin to recover from the damage caused by Covid-19.
“We have all missed racegoers — the atmosphere, the camaraderie and the fact many livelihoods depend on them. I hope that being back on a racecourse goes some way to providing some much-needed respite from what has been an incredibly challenging year.”
Further details of what racecourses can expect are set to be laid out in a conference call with the RCA on Friday, but Simon Sherwood, Ludlow’s chief executive and clerk of the course, is preparing for annual members and paying spectators to attend next week.
He said: “We’ll need to sort out the required protocols and we’re having a Zoom call with the RCA tomorrow where they’ll make clear what requirements and protocols will be needed.
“However, we’re definitely engaging with it and it’ll be good to get some people back, especially our members – we have 600 who haven’t been able to come since February. Then we’ll be looking at having a limited level of racegoers coming back and they’ll need to go through a pre-registration system, so we’ll be taking a cautious route.”
Tickets for Lingfield’s all-weather meeting are available to buy on the racecourse’s website with ROA members and annual members also able to claim tickets for the raceday.
Sam Cone, communications manager for Lingfield’s owner Arena Racing Company, said: “It’s going to be different to a normal raceday but we can’t wait to welcome back racegoers and it’s a step closer to what they are used to.”
The government will review the tiers on December 16 with regions able to move up and down the restrictions depending on factors such as how quickly cases are rising or falling and pressure on the NHS.
The return of racegoers was viewed by Laurence Robertson, Conservative MP for Tewkesbury and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Racing, as the second key step for racing returning to a more robust position after racecourses were given access to £40 million in loans from the government as part of an aid package for sports impacted by loss of spectators.
“The decisions they’ve made are right and I think we have to be thankful for small mercies right now,” he said. “Last week the money was made available to the racecourses and this is the second step for racing to get back up on its feet again, with the final stage being betting shops opening everywhere and being able to show live pictures.
“It’s good news and you have to feel things are moving in the right direction. Long term it will depend on mass testing and vaccinations, so I can see these restrictions running in one way or another for a long time yet. But this is positive for the sport and there has to be credit given to ministers and for those working in racing that have got to this point.”
BHA chief executive Nick Rust also urged patience as racecourses slowly build up to a level where larger crowds will be able to attend.
He said: “We’re all looking forward to welcoming spectators back to racecourses. However, patience is still required before we get back to the sort of numbers we would all like to see, and which will generate substantial financial returns to racecourses.
“Racing must continue to play its part in both lifting people’s spirits and setting an example for others to follow. Therefore we ask spectators and everyone who is attending race meetings in the coming weeks to, please, enjoy the experience, while carefully following government guidance and racing’s protocols.”
Representatives from racecourses in Wales are set to take part in a meeting with the Welsh government on Monday about the potential return of spectators, while the Scottish government has no plans to increase the figure of 300 attendees.
Courtesy of Racing Post