King George will be run behind closed doors

Kempton’s Ladbrokes Christmas Festival will be staged behind closed doors following the latest announcement from the Government on areas of England which are to move to the highest level of coronavirus restrictions.

While nearby London moved to Tier 3 earlier this week, with the Sunbury track being in Surrey – at that time in Tier 2 – a crowd of up to 2,000, albeit not racegoers from the capital itself, was still set to attend the showpiece fixture which features the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.

However, the announcement to the House of Commons by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Thursday that Surrey will now join Tier 3 means no crowd will be permitted.

A spokesperson for the track’s owners, Jockey Club Racecourses, said: “We know that racing fans will be disappointed to be missing out on some thrilling live action over the Christmas period, especially having only just been allowed to return to our venues in very limited numbers.

Clan Des Obeaux won last year's King George in front of packed grandstands
Clan Des Obeaux won last year’s King George in front of packed grandstands (Steven Paston/PA)

“However, we recognise we must all play our part in tackling this pandemic and look forward to welcoming racegoers back to our courses as soon as we’re able to do so.”

Ascot’s pre-Christmas fixture this weekend has also been affected by the latest developments.

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A statement from the track read: “The Government confirmed today that the local authority in which Ascot is situated (Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead) will formally move into Tier 3 of Covid restrictions at midnight on Friday, December 18 which automatically means that the public cannot be admitted to Ascot on Saturday, December 19, day two of the December Racing Weekend.

Crowds will be absent from Ascot this weekend
Crowds will be absent from Ascot this weekend (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Ascot has consulted with Public Health England and its Safety Advisory Group, and the advice received is that it should not to be open to the public tomorrow, Friday, December 18, day one of the December Racing Weekend. Therefore, Ascot will not be admitting the public for Friday’s racing.

“Cases in the south of England have risen over 40% in the last week and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead is now in a very high-risk area.

“Ascot is sorry that that it has to deliver this news to people looking forward to coming racing this weekend.”

Newbury’s Challow Hurdle card on December 29 is another which will be without racegoers over the festive period, as will the Tolworth Hurdle fixture at Sandown on January 2.

Newbury is another track forced to move behind closed doors
Newbury is another track forced to move behind closed doors (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Newbury tweeted: “Following the recent Government update regarding West Berkshire moving into Tier 3 from Saturday 19 December from 00.01hrs, communications will be issued to all those with a ticket or hospitality booking for MansionBet Challow Hurdle Day on Tuesday 29 December 2020.”

Sandown wrote: “Following the news that @Sandownpark is in a Tier 3 area of England, we are unable to welcome spectators to the racecourse.

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“We will be in touch with anyone who has already purchased a ticket for a fixture now affected, and a refund will be automatically processed.

“We look forward to welcoming racegoers again when it’s safe and appropriate to do so.”

Hereford racecourse is now in Tier 1 one of coronavirus restrictions
Hereford racecourse is now in Tier 1 one of coronavirus restrictions (Tim Goode/PA)

A total of 15 tracks with winter fixtures will continue to have crowds under the current restrictions, including Cheltenham, who race next on New Year’s Day.

All of those courses are in Tier 2, with the exception of Hereford which has moved into a Tier 1 area and will now be allowed as many as 4,000 spectators at its next meeting, which is scheduled for January 2.

No courses that were in Tier 3 have moved to a lower tier.

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