Spectators could be back on track at Ludlow, Lingfield, Haydock and Kempton on Wednesday – because all four tracks are in Tier 2 areas under the Government’s post-lockdown restrictions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that outdoor venues in Tier 1 and 2 areas would be allowed to admit spectators on a limited basis after the end of the national lockdown on December 2, with up to 4,000 spectators or 50 per cent capacity limits – whichever is lowest – in place in Tier 1, dropping to 2,000, or 50 per cent capacity, in Tier 2.
With Shropshire, Surrey, Merseyside and London all falling under Tier 2 restrictions, as published by the Government on Thursday, all four tracks could welcome racegoers next week – although courses in Tier 3 areas, such as Newcastle, Wolverhampton and Leicester, will not be allowed spectators.
Racing has been staged behind closed doors since its return on June 1, barring two crowd pilots at Doncaster and Warwick in September.
Ludlow’s general manager Simon Sherwood is looking forward to the return of a crowd, although he is anticipating no more than 600 spectators on the day as the track “treads cautiously”.
He said: “We’re trying to work out the configuration of the course with a crowd back. It will be great for the atmosphere.
“We’ll tread cautiously being one of the first back. We’re allowed 2,000, but realistically we’ll be welcoming our members back first and then a small amount of the public. I wouldn’t have thought we’d be pushing close to 2,000, our capacity wouldn’t allow that anyway with social distancing.
“For that meeting in December, we’d normally get around 1,500 to 2,000, but I suspect we’ll be having between 500 and 600.
“The fact the other meetings are in Tier 2 does take a bit of the pressure off, otherwise all eyes would have been on us. It will be interesting to see how people engage as I’m sure there will be a bit of nervousness to start with.
“No one will be allowed to turn up and walk into the racecourse. For the members, we have all their details and have informed them already what the protocol is going to be, they have to ring in advance. Because of our numbers it is all going to be done through our office, but the actual detail, we haven’t been informed what that is.
“We need to decide if we’ll be selling alcohol. We might take a view that as you have to serve substantial food to have alcohol, we might not make it available to the public. However, for the owners, because they’ll be having substantial food, alcohol would be available. We might just take a cautious route to start with on that.
“We have a Christmas meeting so if all goes right next week, hopefully we can expand a little then.
“Financially this is not going to be a record breaker, but what it will do is bring some much-needed atmosphere back to the course.”
Lingfield, which is run by Arena Racing Company, is staging an all-weather Flat card on Wednesday.
“It’s been a long time since March, so we’re delighted to hopefully be welcoming crowds back from Wednesday,” clerk of the course George Hill told Sky Sports Racing.
“We’re, I think, one of the first racecourses back on December 2 – so we’re looking forward to it.
“At racecourses throughout the country, it’s been shown how much of an impact (is made by) not having crowds or any catering or hospitality on offer for racegoers. To have no racegoers coming through your gates for six months plus, obviously is going to be a massive financial hit.
“So I think getting back to some crowds back is a massive step in the right direction, to start with.
“Then hopefully, 2021 – as we head towards the summer, with good news on vaccines coming out – we will eventually get back to normal.
“It’s quite a complicated set-up which, obviously until the last couple of days, it’s (been) difficult to plan too far ahead when you’re racing every second day at the moment here – we’re pretty busy,” he said.
“But it’s definitely a step in the right direction. I think even if you’re getting a couple of hundred through the gate, to show you can put on racing safely and it is a safe spectator sport is definitely a step in the right direction.
“Everyone has worked really hard to make sure it is as safe as possible and that we adhere to all the rules and regulations that are put in place – to make sure we can continue safely.
“Racing as a whole has proved itself over the last six months, especially since getting going again in June behind closed doors.
“The news of next Wednesday, starting again for some courses to get back with some sort of crowds, is definitely good.
“I think we’ll be able to do so safely.”