Cheltenham to be held behind closed doors on New Year’s Day

Racing at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day will be staged behind closed doors after the Government announced Gloucestershire will move into Tier 3 of coronavirus restrictions from Boxing Day.

As a Tier 2 area at the time, the Prestbury Park track was able to welcome back crowds of up to 2,000 on each afternoon of its two-day meeting earlier this month – the first spectators at the course since the Festival in March.

However, the latest changes outlined by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday mean the track will once again move behind closed doors.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Hancock said: “Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset including the North Somerset council area, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire as well as Cheshire and Warrington will all be escalated to Tier 3.

“And I’m afraid that Cornwall and Herefordshire have seen sharply rising rates and need to be escalated to Tier 2.”

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Racegoers at Cheltenham during day one of the International Meeting
Racegoers at Cheltenham during day one of the International Meeting (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Ian Renton, the Jockey Club’s managing director for the West Region, which includes Cheltenham and Wincanton, another venue to be affected by the change to Tier 3 and one that is in action on Boxing Day, said: “I’m sure that racing fans who had planned to be with us at our courses over the Christmas and New Year period will be disappointed at this latest news.

“However, it’s important that we all adhere to the restrictions and Government guidelines to help tackle the pandemic. In the meantime we look forward to welcoming racegoers back to our courses as soon as it is safe to do so in 2021.”

Fixtures at Haydock Park will continue to have racegoers as it remains in a Tier 2 area classified as Liverpool City Region and is unaffected by the Cheshire/Warrington change, although anyone with a ticket for the meeting on December 30 whose postcode is now classified as Tier 3 will no longer be able to attend.

The move from Tier 1 to Tier 2 for Herefordshire means Hereford’s fixture on January 2 will have its crowd limit halved to 2,000 from 4,000.

Racegoers await the first race at Hereford earlier this month
Racegoers await the first race at Hereford earlier this month (Tim Goode/PA)

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Mark Spincer, managing director of Arena Racing Company’s racing division, said: “With this afternoon’s confirmation that Herefordshire has moved into Tier 2, there is an impact on the maximum capacity of the race meeting at Hereford on January 2.

“In addition, the elevation of surrounding areas, such as Gloucestershire, to Tier 3 means that a significant proportion of those booked into the meeting will now no longer be able to attend, and their tickets will be refunded automatically.

“As with all of our events at this time, we will be in touch with all of our customers directly to update them on the latest news and what this means for any of their upcoming bookings.”

In addition to Haydock, the only remaining course able to have a crowd before the new year in Britain is Catterick, with the North Yorkshire circuit, who race on Monday, remaining in Tier 2.

Although 14 of Britain’s racecourses will be in Tier 2 from Boxing Day, only Carlisle, Exeter and Ludlow join Catterick, Haydock and Hereford in racing during the rest of the winter.

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