Racegoers were delighted to be back at Carlisle for the first time this year on a beautiful afternoon in Cumbria on Monday.
The British Horseracing Authority last week gave the green light for crowds to return to racecourses following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that step three of the road map out of lockdown would go ahead.
A maximum crowd of 4,000 or 50 per cent capacity, whichever number is lower, will be allowed on track in England – and a four-figure attendance soaked up the atmosphere as Carlisle staged its first Flat fixture since September 2019.
Among the first paying customers through the gates were Carlisle native Craig Hamilton, his partner Louise Williams and their five-month old baby Mikey – who was well dressed for his very first visit to the races.
“It’s fantastic to be back. It’s nice to get back to some sort of normality and to get dressed up and do something,” said Hamilton.
“I’m from Carlisle originally, but we live in Workington. This is Louise’s surprise birthday present. I bought the tickets when they first came out and surprised her this morning.
“We were just saying, we don’t think we’ve been racing since August/September 2019, so it’s almost two years and we probably go six or seven times a year usually.”
Williams added: “This is Mikey’s first day at the races. Hopefully he’s a lucky charm!”
Lloyd Johnson travelled from Swindon for the meeting, and said: “It’s nice to be back. It’s been missed.
“Personally I think it’s important for the public to get back and get back on our feet again.
“I like horse racing and like a bet, of course – I like to come here and win!
“It’s nice to get out and meet people. Let’s get things back together again.”
Carlisle’s general manager Molly Dingwall was thrilled to see members of the public back enjoying a day at the races.
She said: “We’ve got just over 1,000 (paying customers) today. We’ve had a really great uptake and a lot of the local community have come to support us, which is absolutely fantastic.
“We’re so thrilled this day has arrived. When I found out last week that we were going to be able to lessen the green zone and have it a bit more open and have owners back in the parade ring, I was delighted.
“We were very lucky to have behind closed doors racing to keep the sport going, but there’s nothing like having a crowd – it just changes the atmosphere of the day.
“We’ve been so excited to have people back here enjoying their day. We are in the entertainment business at the end of the day and we love seeing people have fun and seeing them being able to see their friends and their racing family, who they haven’t seen for so long.
“To be the first racecourse to be able to do that this year is a real treat and we’re beyond thrilled.”
Carlisle was last able to welcome a small crowd to the track for the pre-Christmas raceday in December.
Dingwall is hoping for a further easing of restrictions when step four of the route out of lockdown is due to kick in on June 21 – just two days before the track’s Carlisle Bell and Cumberland Plate fixture.
She added: “The Bell and Plate day is on June 23 this year and it looks like the 21st could be a really big day for allowing people back in almost a normal capacity.
“It would be absolutely incredible for our Bell and Plate day. We always get a really good crowd that day with really knowledgeable racegoers – it’s a real family day.
“I know there is talk about the date potentially being pushed back, but from our point of view, it’s about being positive, following the guidelines and doing everything we can to ensure we stay as safe as possible and keep our racegoers and participants safe.”
Dual champion jockey Paul Hanagan said: “It’s so good to see the crowds back – this is what it’s all about. There’s just that extra bit of atmosphere and it does make a difference.
“It’s fantastic to see. I think there were a few of the two-year-olds in the first race thinking ‘what is going on here?’, as they’ve never seen so many people. It’s great to have everyone back.”
Samuel Black was one of 10 bookmakers allowed to take pitches on track.
He said: “We’ve been on track for owners at Kelso and Musselburgh, but it’s obviously been very quiet. It’s more of a service for them and getting us out of the house. From a business point of view, it’s been a waste of time.
“The last time we were racing with a full crowd was at Uttoxeter on Midlands Grand National day last year – the day after the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. We did go to Haydock twice with a small crowd at the end of last year, similar to this today.
“Business today is workable. For a midweek fixture, it’s as good as could be expected really.
“It’s nice to be out and see the sun again – we’ve been pale for a year!
“We have a good pitch at Glorious Goodwood and we just hope we’re back to something like normal by then.”