Aintree and Sandown were among the tracks to welcome back crowds on the first Saturday since the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
The end of the second national lockdown on Wednesday allowed sports in Tier 1 and 2 areas to have limited spectator attendance once again under the Government’s latest guidance, with up to 2,000 permitted in Tier 2 areas.
Both Aintree and Sandown come under the latter category – and officials at both courses spoke of their delight at another step towards normality.
One of the main fixture casualties of the original coronavirus shutdown was the Grand National at Aintree, meaning the paying public had not attended the Merseyside venue since the Becher Chase meeting a year ago.
Sulekha Varma, who became Aintree’s first female clerk of course ahead of this fixture last season, said: “To have spectators on course, I think everyone can feel it’s just lifted things.
“We’ve got plenty of owners in attendance as well, which is really good news, and really good quality racing.
“Our limit is 2,000 people – that’s the limit the Government has placed on us. We’re certainly getting close to that, if not quite at it.
“The beauty of Aintree is it’s such a massive space that 2,000 people can keep their distance from each other very safely.
“It’s a step in the right direction – that’s the best way to put it. It’s the first step in what will be an ever-faster moving journey for us, and let’s hope this time next year we won’t even be thinking about it any more – that would be nice.
“It would be wonderful if we were getting close to that (normality) by the time the National meeting comes around, who knows?”
The card at Sandown was also the first meeting to host Grade One contests – including the Tingle Creek Chase – since the return of crowds.
Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper said: “It’s great to have a crowd of sorts back here. Hopefully it is the first step towards bigger crowds being allowed back in as soon as it is safe to do so.
“You can sense the difference in the atmosphere compared to the behind closed doors meetings. There are PA announcements, the buzz of the crowd, a roar as they approach the last and a big round of applause as the winner comes back in after the race.
“It’s all progress. It’s not quite where we want to be and we are not back to the old normal, but it is a big improvement on how we have been racing since June.”