Arrangements could be put in place to help Newbury race alongside vaccination service

Discussions between Newbury and the British Horseracing Authority could lead to the racecourse continuing to act as a vaccination centre on days when racing takes place.

Since last Thursday the Berkshire track has been used as a Covid-19 vaccination hub, providing up to 1,500 jabs daily. The service was temporarily halted due to the jumps fixture on Wednesday afternoon.

A BHA spokesperson said: “The BHA supports the idea that the vaccination service is a national priority and therefore the aim is to make arrangements which allow racing events to take place alongside the vaccination rollout where possible.

“We would consider any such proposal from Newbury and work with them on possible arrangements for future racedays.”

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Newbury said in a statement on its website: “When the NHS first approached Newbury Racecourse to use one of the grandstands as a local vaccination centre, they were made aware of our scheduled racing meeting on Wednesday, January 20 and all future fixtures. It was also made clear that under the BHA and government guidance for elite sport with our current layout, the vaccination centre could not operate on live racedays.

“We understand the NHS considered this carefully and given the centre is not providing vaccinations to the public seven days per week, they have planned their vaccination programme accordingly to work around the two racedays we host in the next 42 days.

“Following the success of the first week of the vaccination centre with positive feedback from patients, we now have an established operational model that the NHS wish to use moving forward. As a result, we are now able to approach the BHA to see if an exception can be made to the regulations for future racedays, allowing the vaccination centre to operate alongside racing if required.”

Jumps racing took place at Newbury on Wednesday
Jumps racing took place at Newbury on Wednesday (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

It added: “Newbury Racecourse is extremely proud to play a small part in the fight against COVID-19 capitalising on the abundance of space we have to offer and have played a role throughout the pandemic as a community hub, acting as a Primary Care Unit during the first lockdown and operating a Meals on Wheels service to some of the most vulnerable and elderly in the area.

“Together with West Berks NHS, the local GP surgeries and the host of volunteers, we remain completely committed to supporting the local community and surrounding area during this challenging time.”

Newbury’s next fixture is scheduled for Saturday, February 13.

BHA states ‘racing continues’ following shutdown rumours

The British Horseracing Authority has been given no indication from Government that a stoppage of elite sport in Britain is imminent, the PA news agency understands.

Rumours on social media on Sunday evening suggested a shutdown of sport, including racing and football, was under consideration in a bid to reduce the rising rate of coronavirus.

However, it understood that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has contacted the ruling body of racing to inform that no such discussions have taken place, and no formal meetings were planned for Monday.

On Monday morning, the BHA posted on Twitter: “British racing continues behind closed doors this week”, followed by a list of fixtures scheduled to take place on Monday and Tuesday.

The BHA also later tweeted a reminder to all participants to follow the Covid-19 protocols in place – both on course and in yards.

Racing to continue behind closed doors in Ireland

Racing in Ireland will continue behind closed doors following an extension of coronavirus restrictions announced by the Irish Government on Wednesday.

The Irish Government website confirmed professional, elite sports, horse racing, greyhound racing and approved equestrian events only are permitted to continue behind closed doors. No other matches or events are to take place.

Racing has been staged without spectators since it returned in Ireland on June 8 following the Covid-19 lockdown, with limited numbers of owners making only a brief return to the course in September before they were again excluded under strict protocols.

Meanwhile, it has been agreed that the ban on UK travel should continue until midnight on Friday evening. Trainer Gordon Elliott has two horses – Quilixios and Duffle Coat – entered for the Grade One Finale Hurdle at Chepstow on Saturday.

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From Saturday, all passengers coming from the UK will be required to possess a negative PCR test acquired within 72 hours of travelling.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said: “They will have to present that negative test at the border management unit at an airport or at the ferry terminal.

“Failure to do so will be subject to either a fine of 2,500 euros or up to six months imprisonment penal provision, to make sure we get compliance.”

The provision is certain to remain in place until at least January 31, he said.

He added: “We expect other countries to be doing something similar and we’ll work in co-operation with other countries, and with the European Commission, to monitor and manage how this affects individuals.

“The cabinet’s agreed provisionally to apply the same measures to other jurisdictions, other red-list countries.

“We will work first of all introduce to the UK provisions, and we will work in the next week with European Commission and others, people involved in the travel industry, in terms of how we broaden and apply the same measures too from other jurisdictions.”

Jockey Robbie Power has clarified his riding plans during the current situation, announcing on his Twitter feed that he will stay in Ireland rather than travelling to Britain – including to partner horses trained by Colin Tizzard, as he has for much of the season so far.

He wrote: “Due to the increased number of covid 19 cases in Ireland and the UK and the uncertainty over travel restrictions I have decided to stay in Ireland with my family until restrictions ease.

“I’ve been in quarantine since the 1st of January and look forward to getting back riding on both sides of the Irish Sea as soon as restrictions allow.”

New lockdowns announced but racing to continue behind closed doors

Racing is to continue in Britain despite the announcement of new national lockdowns in England and Scotland.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday evening that a third national lockdown would be imposed in England, saying the new Covid-19 variant – which is 50 per cent to 70 per cent more transmissible – was spreading in a “frustrating and alarming” manner.

“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic,” he said in an address to the nation.

“I know how tough this is, and I know how frustrated you are and I know you have had more than enough of government guidance about defeating this virus, but now, more than ever, we must pull together.”

The first national lockdown in March saw all professional sport suspended, with racing able to successfully recommence on June 1 behind closed doors and under strict protocols.

It has continued since then among the tiered restrictions in place across the country, and the British Horseracing Authority confirmed that would remain the case.

Racing resumed at Newcastle on June 1 behind closed doors under strict protocols
Racing resumed at Newcastle on June 1 behind closed doors under strict protocols (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

A statement from the BHA read: “Following this evening’s broadcast, we can confirm racing will continue behind closed doors during the upcoming national lockdown.

“Attendance will be limited to those essential to the staging of fixtures and strict adherence to British racing’s Covid-19 protocols will continue to be required for all who attend.”

Earlier in the day a lockdown was announced in Scotland by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, but Scottish Racing – the body which represents Ayr, Hamilton Park, Kelso, Musselburgh, which is due to race on Thursday, and Perth – moved to allay any fears.

A tweet from Scottish Racing read: “Following today’s announcement that Scotland is to re-enter full Covid restrictions, @ScotGov has confirmed that racing in Scotland can continue behind closed doors.

“Only individuals essential to staging the fixtures should attend race meetings and are required to continue to follow the strict protocols already in place.

“Unfortunately, no owners will be permitted to attend a racecourse until further notice.”

No spectators permitted in England as Covid-19 restrictions tighten

Racing will take place behind closed doors for the immediate future after the Government announced stricter Tiers will come into force across many parts of England from Thursday in an attempt to combat rising coronavirus rates.

It was announced at end of November that outdoor venues in Tier 1 and 2 areas in England would be allowed to admit spectators again following the latest national lockdown in England, with up to 4,000 spectators permitted in Tier 1 areas and up to 2,000 in Tier 2.

Hundreds of punters were allowed through the turnstiles at Haydock, Kempton, Lingfield and Ludlow on December 2, while December 5 saw racegoers on course for the Tingle Creek meeting at Sandown and Becher Chase day at Aintree.

More recently members have returned to Cheltenham for the first time since the Festival in March, but just days later it was announced more areas of the country would move into Tier 3 and Tier 4, quashing hopes of a crowd for the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.

And with Covid-19 cases still on the rise due to a more virulent strain, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced in the House of Commons on Wednesday that three-quarters of the country will be in Tier 3 or Tier 4 by Thursday, including every area which homes a racecourse in Britain.

He said: “Unfortunately, this new variant is now spreading across most of England and cases are doubling fast.

“It is therefore necessary to apply Tier 4 measures to a wider area…even in most areas not moving into Tier 4, cases are rising too, and it is therefore necessary to apply Tier 3 measures more broadly too.

“The new variant means that three-quarters of the population are now going to be in Tier 4 and almost all of the country in Tiers 3 and 4.

“And I know that Tier 3 and 4 measures place a significant burden on people, and especially on businesses affected, but I am afraid it is absolutely necessary because of the number of cases that we’ve seen.”

The British Horseracing Authority announced on Tuesday that owners will no longer be able to attend meetings held in Tier 4 areas from New Year’s Day and owners living under Tier 4 restrictions are not permitted to attend race meetings in Tiers 1-3.

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)

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.

Doyle outlines extended lockdown fears for racing

Top jockey Hollie Doyle is concerned for the future of racing if coronavirus restrictions persist well into the new year and said: “I don’t know how much more it can take.”

Doyle, 24, was celebrating a third-place finish in the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year poll on Sunday night. It was reward for a stellar 2020 in which she broke her own record for the number of wins by a female jockey in a calendar year and secured her first Group One success on Glen Shiel as part of a Champions Day double at Ascot.

Doyle herself originally hails from Herefordshire, one of the few parts of England in Tier 1 under the Government’s regionalised system to combat the spread of Covid-19 and where up to 4,000 people are able to attend outdoor sporting events.

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However, the decision to move large parts of southern and eastern England into Tier 4 amid concerns over a new, potentially more transmissible strain of the virus raises the prospect of many more months of racecourses in the highest-risk areas operating behind closed doors.

Doyle is impressed by the resilience her sport has shown to date during the pandemic, but admits extended lockdown restrictions are a real worry.

“There’s a huge ‘food chain’ (around racing) and it’s very stretched,” she said.

“I don’t know how much more it can take, but obviously everyone’s doing all they can to keep the sport up and running.

“It’s going to be hard isn’t it? We can continue to race, we’ve proven we can adapt and keep the show on the road like we did early on while everyone was in lockdown, and keep racing. But obviously the longer we have no crowds and the owners aren’t able to go racing, it is going to become increasingly difficult to sustain.”

Twenty-time champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy hailed Doyle’s “phenomenal” success in 2020 and backed her to become champion jockey herself in the years to come.

Asked about the praise he had offered her, Doyle said: “It means everything, it means the world. I grew up watching AP ride, watched his journey and all his success. So for him to say such kind words about me is unbelievable.”

Speaking about her targets for 2021, Doyle added: “I always try to better the year before – although it’s going to be hard to do better than I have this year.

“I think I’ve broken any expectation I had of myself and broken a few barriers as well. I hope I’ve encouraged people who don’t expect to be capable of winning things.”

Racing to continue without crowds in Tier 4

Fixtures will continue behind closed doors in all areas affected by the Government’s new Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions, the British Horseracing Authority has confirmed.

A BHA statement was published on Saturday night following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that much of south-east England, already subject to Tier 3 arrangements, will move into a stricter Tier 4 for two weeks from Sunday.

That effectively means a return to the lockdown measures which prevailed nationally last month, in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the pandemic during Britain’s latest wave of the virus.

Several major meetings – including Kempton’s Ladbrokes Christmas Festival, headlined by the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day – are set to take place in the areas affected, and were therefore already scheduled to do so without crowds following their previous move into Tier 3 earlier this week.

Saturday’s statement from racing’s national governing body read: “A Government official has confirmed to the BHA tonight that Tier 4 is equivalent to the restrictions that applied to elite sports in the second national lockdown in November.

“Racing will continue behind closed doors in Tier 4 in England – with no spectators and owners subjected to the same restrictions as in November, which limit attendance to a maximum of 45 on the course at any point.

“Owners attending must comply with the BHA’s protocols as well as national guidance, and satisfy themselves that their travel to, and attendance at, race meetings is legitimately linked to their business involvement in British racing.

“Each individual racecourse will provide information specific to their events – which owners are asked to check before attending.”

The BHA continues to stress the importance of awareness for all of up-to-date guidelines and policy, adding in the statement:  “All those attending racing behind closed doors, including participants, are asked to note the Government’s latest statements about the risks of virus transmission and ensure they continue to follow racing’s protocols.

“The BHA and racecourses will continue to liaise with Government, Public Health England and local Safety Advisory Groups and keep the situation under review. We will share any further relevant details as and when we have them.”

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.

“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.

Ascot expects limited crowds through 2021

Ascot racecourse is expecting attendances will remain below pre-Covid levels throughout 2021.

The course’s financial results for 2019 featured a rise in turnover and pre-tax profits, but a much bleaker picture is predicted for the next 12 months in the absence of renewed Government support.

It is estimated that without insurance, the furlough scheme and business rates relief the course’s trading loss this year would have been more than £20 million.

Royal Ascot crowds may remain limited again next year
Royal Ascot crowds may remain limited next year (Adam Davy/PA)

In a normal year more than 70 per cent of Ascot’s revenue comes from having racegoers on site – which has not been possible since March when the pandemic struck, forcing the Royal meeting behind closed doors.

Ascot’s chief executive Guy Henderson said: “Of course, our landscape changed dramatically with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and this will affect our 2020 results and beyond.

“In 2020 the impact of the pandemic has been significant but mitigated by cushions such as the Government Furlough Scheme, Business Rates Relief and pandemic insurance for racing without crowds. That picture adversely changes in 2021, and the business has had to take the appropriate steps to reduce its fixed and variable costs.

“Without our pandemic insurance and the Government support of furlough and business rates relief, our 2020 trading loss would be over £20m. The year will only be overall cash positive due to that support and a very significant reduction in our capital investment programme. 2021 will be much more challenging without such support.

“Our modelling currently projects a significant figure pre-tax loss in 2021. While the business is robust and remains in sound financial health, the journey back to normality will be gradual and determined by the phasing of public allowed to the races.

“We do not expect to see a full return of the public to 2019 levels until 2022. Overall, in terms of our long-term financial flight path, we forecast that the Covid-19 pandemic will have set the business plan back at least three years.”

New coronavirus restrictions mean London-based racegoers will miss King George

London-based racegoers planning a trip to Kempton for the two-day Ladbrokes Christmas Festival, featuring the King George VI Chase, will be unable to attend after the Government placed the capital into Tier 3 of coronavirus restrictions from Wednesday.

Kempton can still admit a maximum 2000 spectators from Tier 1 and 2 areas, as the racecourse is in Surrey and not London.

Tickets for both days of racing on Boxing Day and the 27th have sold out, but those travelling from Tier 3 will not be allowed to attend, which has been the case since crowds were able to return to racecourses earlier this month. They will be entitled to a refund and Kempton can put the tickets up for resale.

The blow to London racegoers came when Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the Government’s plans to the House of Commons following a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases.

Racegoers were back at Ludlow earlier this month when crowd restrictions were eased
Racegoers were back at Ludlow earlier this month when crowd restrictions were eased (David Davies/PA)

He said of the move to Tier 3 for London: “I know that this is difficult news and I know that it will mean plans disrupted and for businesses affected it will be a significant blow.

“But this action is absolutely essential not just to keep people safe but because we have seen that early action can help prevent more damaging and longer-lasting problems later.”

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London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the decision was “incredibly disappointing” for businesses but urged the capital’s residents to follow the rules.

He added: “The worst thing for London’s businesses and our economy would be yet another full lockdown in the new year.

“That’s why I urge Londoners to follow the Tier 3 rules that the Government is putting in place very closely so that we can drive down infection rates as much as possible.”

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

Kempton general manager Simon Durrant told Racing TV: “Based on the information we’re receiving, London goes into Tier 3 from Wednesday, (but) that doesn’t change anything here at Kempton Park.

“Kempton Park remains as a Tier 2 racecourse and Tier 2 environment. That said, the national review (of restrictions) will still take place on Wednesday, as it was always intended.

“Today, nothing’s changed. We still look forward to welcoming spectators on Boxing Day and December 27, albeit some of our customers who may have purchased tickets from a Tier 3 location will now sadly be contacted by our team to offer a full refund.

“We just need to monitor the news very closely and see what happens as a result of Wednesday’s announcements.

“Being able to welcome spectators has been great. We’ve missed our spectators and it’s brilliant to welcome them back.

“Let’s hope that Wednesday’s announcement doesn’t change anything.”

Action at Chelmsford will be back behind closed doors on Thursday
Action at Chelmsford will be back behind closed doors on Thursday (Tim Goode/PA)

Parts of Essex and Hertfordshire are also affected by the latest developments, meaning Chelmsford’s evening meeting on Thursday will be without racegoers.

Clerk of the course Andy Waitt said: “It’s very disappointing for our members and owners.

“I’ve not been given the full lowdown on what’s happening yet, but from what the restrictions are, I’d imagine that owners can come in, but under restricted circumstances, with no food or drink available, which is really unfortunate.

“We’ve not been having massive crowds and haven’t had any general public, but we’ve been able to have some of our members in and it’s been nice to be able to offer something to owners. They are the lifeblood of racing at the moment and need to be looked after, so it’s a shame we won’t be able to give them as much as we’d like to.

“It seems to be one step forward and three steps back at the moment.”

Ludlow racegoers cheer return from lockdown

Sounds of cheers echoed from the stands once again as spectators returned to Ludlow on Wednesday after six months of racing behind closed doors.

Aside from two pilot events, staged on the opening day of the St Leger meeting at Doncaster in September and a jumps fixture at Warwick later that month, only a limited number of essential personnel have been allowed on track since the sport’s resumption on June 1 following the Covid-19 lockdown.

With Ludlow placed in Tier 2 under the Government’s restrictions, allowing outdoor sporting venues to host 2,000 spectators or 50 per cent capacity – whichever is lowest – a crowd of around 600 was able to enjoy the seven-race card.

There was no roof-raising roar as Falberto claimed the opening Shropshire Mind Novices’ Claiming Hurdle, but the sight and sounds of hoofprints hitting the turf was music to the ears of racegoer Rhiannon Linington-Payne – who was attending her first meeting since New Year’s Day.

She said: “I felt very safe, which is obviously the most important thing. As just a general fan of the sport, it is just nice to be back.

“I don’t come to the races to get drunk or lose my money; I come because I appreciate the sport, and I’m sure I speak for a lot of people here who are glad to be back watching the horses again.

“I didn’t back the favourite in the first, so didn’t get that first winner, but it is just nice to be back on track – you can’t beat the atmosphere of being on a racecourse really.

“We normally go to the Cheltenham Festival. But we didn’t this year because we didn’t feel safe, but it is nice to be enjoying what we love safely.”

Tickets for the fixture were always going to be in high demand, and the 29-year-old was quick off the mark to secure hers.

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She added: “I rang my dad up on the day they made the announcement to say ‘book us in, we are going, and I’ll take the day off work’.

“It’s really nice to be back on track, and I’m sure it gives people a much-needed lift with the year everyone has had. It has been a long old slog, but hopefully it will give everyone a bit of a boost before Christmas.”

There were queues at the entrance at Ludlow
There were queues at the entrance at Ludlow (David Davies/PA)

Despite encountering a few teething problems getting in, and being restricted to limited amenities once inside, track regular Don Ward also enjoyed the experience of being back in the stands.

He said: “It’s very good to be back. It was a bit slow to get in, but apart from that it has been magnificent to be back. I’m 79 and I’ve been coming here all my life.

“I’ve missed the people – and being part of the crowd with everybody here is so friendly, because you get the same people at every meeting.”

Members of the Owners Group 034 ensured their share of atmospheric noise as the Paul Nicholls-trained Miranda landed the feature Shropshire Mind Mares’ Handicap Hurdle for them.

Syndicate spokesman Ryan Bliss said: “We have been lucky enough to have two or four owners on track for a while, but to be able to have good few owners here means so much to us.

“The more people we can get going racing, the better. We have been exceptionally lucky during lockdown that we have been able to have some owners go racing, but for more people to be able to see their horses is tremendous – and the atmosphere is so much better.”

Leading rider Harry Skelton has partnered plenty of winners at the Shropshire track – and although out of luck on his sole ride, he was delighted to see a crowd back in the stands.

He said: “It’s brilliant to have the crowds back – they are great supporters of the game, and it is very important to have them on course.

“We were told in the autumn it was more likely to be six months before crowds returned – and when we were told that, none of us expected to see them back so early, so this is a step in the right direction.

“When you go out there to ride, you are in your own little bubble really. On a day-to-day basis you might not notice it as much. But on the smaller tracks, where some of the areas aren’t as big – like here – you definitely feel the atmosphere.”

Bookmakers in action as crowds returned at Ludlow
Bookmakers in action as crowds returned at Ludlow (David Davies/PA)

Gold Cup and Grand National-winning trainer Kim Bailey has attended every meeting at the course since the resumption of racing, and he echoed the thoughts of Skelton.

He said: “It’s very important we have these spectators back, and the more it keeps going forward, the better, because it has been soulless without them.

“It is a very positive move, but I think the whole thing has been completely bizarre.

“I’ve been here every single meeting and I’ve not seen any people on those stands, so it makes a big difference.

“The other thing is confidence – people will get confidence to go racing and travel the countryside to start going again. It is just good news all round.”

As one of the first four tracks alongside Haydock, Lingfield and Kempton to welcome back crowds, there was no margin for error for clerk of the course Simon Sherwood – who hailed the event a success, despite the challenging circumstances.

He said: “We always said it was going to be a learning curve, because the protocols are that much more challenging from what it was before. We will improve after this meeting if we are allowed to do the same thing through December and expand.

“It is great to have members back and some atmosphere back, and that is the most crucial thing we have been lacking since racing started up again. This is just hopefully a tiny step in the right direction.

“I think people are just happy to have the day out. There has been the odd grumble with people in the queues to get in, and we can speed that up next time, but on the whole people are just happy to have a day out.

“I think on the whole the feedback has been pretty positive.”

Armstrong greets ‘baby step’ as crowds return

Racecourse Association chief executive David Armstrong described the return of limited crowds on English tracks as a “baby step” in the recovery of the sport.

Ludlow, Lingfield, and Haydock all welcomed paying spectators on Wednesday afternoon – with Kempton set to have a crowd for its evening fixture following the lifting of the national lockdown.

All four tracks are in Tier 2 areas, allowing crowds of up to 2,000 people or 50 per cent capacity – whichever is lowest – and Armstrong was among those on course at Ludlow.

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Aside from two pilot events in September, racing has been held behind closed doors since its resumption on June 1, and Armstrong admits it is a “bonus” to have racegoers back in any capacity before Christmas.

He said: “It’s definitely a step in the right direction. What I wouldn’t describe it as is a pilot or test. It’s step in the right direction, but it’s a baby step.

“It is important here at Ludlow today, where 650 people will make it quite a good atmosphere. If you think about most racecourses, if they have 2,000 people, it is barely touching the sides – so it doesn’t yet get back to where we create the atmosphere or make it more economically viable.

“Those are steps that are still to come, but we have to start with a baby step – and in the current environment, we are very fortunate to get the opportunity to bring this number of people back so soon.

“I probably wasn’t expecting it until after Christmas, so this is a bonus. But the real work is how we bring crowds back at a significant scale, because that is where the economics start to work.”

Fears were raised about the future of racecourses if the absence of spectators continued in the long term, but Armstrong is “confident” all venues will be able to weather the winter and remain operational in 2021.

He added: “Yes, (I expect every course to still be operating next year).

“There are some in a more fragile position than others – and if in 12 months’ time the crowds weren’t allowed back, then I don’t think they would all survive, but I’m confident they all will.

“We are seeing the first step of it today. We are on a journey to bring back crowds in sensible numbers – and once we do that, then they will all be fine.”

Falberto is Ludlow’s first crowd-pleaser

Falberto won Ludlow’s first race in front of a crowd since February – continuing the fine form of the Sam Thomas yard.

While the result of the Shropshire Mind Novices’ Claiming Hurdle might normally have had limited significance away from those most directly involved, it was of wider note – because it was witnessed by around 600 people, as the paying public returned to the course on Wednesday.

Since racing resumed on June 1, bar two pilot events at Doncaster and Warwick, all meetings have been held behind closed doors – with only essential workers allowed.

Following the introduction of the Tier system by the Government, those tracks in Tiers 1 and 2 can welcome a restricted crowd.

All four meetings on Wednesday fell in Tier 2, meaning an attendance of up to 2,000 was allowed – although Ludlow restricted theirs to around 600, with the aim to allow more for their Christmas card later this month.

Falberto was ridden by Jordan Nailor – and after six months of racing at empty courses, the jockey was pleased to see a few more faces.

“It’s good to have the crowds back,” said Nailor.

“It feels a bit weird to be seeing everyone here that is not normally here – but it is good to have them back.

“You don’t take much notice of the crowd when you are riding, but it is good to see when you pull up that they all there.”

Great demand for Tingle Creek Chase day tickets

Jockey Club Racecourses report a “fantastic” response after tickets for next week’s Betfair Tingle Creek Chase day went on sale.

Spectators are set to return to racecourses on Wednesday for the first time since March – barring two pilot events at Doncaster and Warwick in September – after the Government announced limited crowds would be permitted under the post-lockdown restrictions.

Outdoor venues in Tier 1 and 2 areas are allowed to admit spectators after the end of the national lockdown in England 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. No crowds are permitted in Tier 3 areas.

Ludlow, Lingfield, Haydock and Kempton all fall under Tier 2 restrictions and get the ball rolling on Wednesday, with the JCR-run Sandown also in the same level of measures.

Next Saturday’s card is set to feature the return of Altior in the Grade One feature and Phil White, Jockey Club Racecourses London director, is delighted with the reaction of potential racegoers, with general admission tickets having sold out.

He said: “The response to us going on sale for Betfair Tingle Creek Day has been fantastic.

“Racing fans have been incredibly patient these last few months and we’re looking forward to having them with us next weekend.”

The Racecourse Association has set out operating protocols for all tracks to follow, with attendees required to purchase tickets in advance and supply full contact details for all in their party.

Racegoers are also asked to wear a face covering at all times, unless eating or drinking, travel by private transport where possible, ensure social distancing from fellow racegoers outside of their household bubble and abide by a code of conduct.