Tag Archive for: coronavirus

Lateral flow requirement for jockeys deferred

A nationwide shortage of lateral flow tests has prompted the British Horseracing Authority to “temporarily” defer the requirement for jockeys to show proof of a negative result before entering the weighing room.

The change in protocol was due to come into force on Wednesday, with everyone entering the weighing room complex on racedays asked to show evidence of a negative LFT.

However, a statement from the BHA on Saturday said: “Recognising the difficulty some participants and officials have had in ordering lateral flow tests (LFTs), the racing industry Covid-19 Group has temporarily deferred the requirement, announced earlier this week, to show a negative lateral flow test to gain entry to the weighing room, which was due to take effect at all fixtures from January 5.

“Existing requirements will remain in place, including the need for Covid status certification for all weighing room attendees at all fixtures. Anyone unable to provide evidence of vaccination status will continue to require proof of a negative PCR or LFT test.”

A new implementation date will be announced when “LFT supply issues improve”.

Jockeys required to produce negative lateral flow tests from next Wednesday

Jockeys will be required to provide proof of a negative lateral flow test before being allowed to enter the weighing room from next Wednesday.

The British Horseracing Authority announced the change in protocol after rises in Covid-19 infection rates across the country over the last couple of weeks, with over 180,000 positive tests confirmed on Wednesday.

From January 5, everyone entering the weighing room complex on racedays will have to show evidence of a negative LFT, with all attendees also encouraged to get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity.

The BHA’s chief medical adviser, Dr Jerry Hill, said: “Racing’s Covid-19 mitigation strategy continues to focus on protecting our business-critical raceday personnel, whose absence due to illness or isolation may result in us struggling to staff fixtures.

“The introduction of mandatory pre-raceday lateral flow testing for weighing room workers is therefore another important step to help safeguard our people and the racing product.

“Vaccination remains an essential part of the fight against Covid-19, reducing the likelihood of serious illness; and combined with regular testing, we are taking the necessary precautions to minimise our chances of catching and spreading the disease in this core work environment.”

Chepstow left counting the cost as Welsh National goes behind closed doors

Chepstow executive director Phil Bell was philosophical following the news the Coral Welsh National will take place without spectators for the second successive year on Monday.

The Welsh government has confirmed all sporting events in Wales will be held behind closed doors from Boxing Day due to the surge in coronavirus cases.

It was a decision Chepstow had feared would be made in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

“In the last 48 hours it was leaning towards closed doors so I was beginning to get my head around it,” Bell told Sky Sports Racing.

“At the weekend it looked like there was a possibility of reduced crowds, maybe 4,000, but the mood music yesterday was going in the wrong direction and that’s what has happened.”

More than 6,000 tickets had been sold in advance of this year’s meeting, but it will now once again take place without a crowd.

“We’ve had up to 12,000 people for the Welsh National meeting in recent years, an average of around 10,000. Hospitality had been sold out for about a month,” Bell went on.

“Most of the racecourse was ready to go. We’ve been having marquees erected for the last three weeks plus all the portable toilets, outside bars and food outlets.

“It’s been a month’s worth of hard work in terms of putting the site ready which is now going to go to waste.

“The one thing about the financial impact is we are talking to the Welsh Government about a compensation package. We’ve been asked to supply our cost and revenue losses to them and that’s going into the mix for a decision.

“It’s an expensive race meeting to put on. We’ve spent £40,000 on marquees alone – one small element of the event. That’s a help they are aware there are significant losses involved.”

Welsh economy Minister Vaughan Gething announced the new measures for indoor and outdoor sporting events in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Gething said: “Sporting events over the Christmas period are one of the big highlights of the year. Unfortunately, the new Omicron variant is a significant development in the pandemic and could cause a large number of infections.

Secret Reprieve on his way to winning last year's Coral Welsh Grand National
Secret Reprieve on his way to winning last year’s Coral Welsh Grand National (David Davies/PA)

“We need to do everything we can to protect people’s health and control the spread of this awful virus.

“Throughout the pandemic we have followed scientific and public health advice to keep people safe. The advice is clear – we need to act now in response to the threat of Omicron. We are giving people as much notice of these decisions as we can.

“Crowds will come back as soon as possible. We want everyone to be here to enjoy their favourite sports.”

Traditionally staged on December 27, the Welsh Grand National is the highlight of the year at Chepstow.

With the course waterlogged 12 months ago, last season’s renewal was rescheduled to take place in early January, but there were no paying customers on course to witness the impressive victory of the Evan Williams-trained Secret Reprieve.

In Scotland, officials at Musselburgh have announced the New Year’s Day meeting at the East Lothian track will take place behind closed doors.

The decision was taken following the Scottish Government’s decision to limit outdoor sporting events to a maximum of 500 people with table service only.

Musselburgh racecourse
Musselburgh racecourse (Jane Barlow/PA)

Musselburgh general manager Bill Farnsworth said: “It is very unfortunate as this is one of our best and biggest racedays and one of our most popular, attended by a sell-out crowd.

“However, we all must play our part in keeping people safe and in light of the latest Government guidance on the Omicron variant, we feel the responsible decision is to make this a ‘BCD’ event with only annual members, horse owners, trainers and staff in attendance.

“On a positive note, we hope that the restrictions will break the spread of the Omicron variant so that we can look forward to the Scottish Festival Trials Weekend on February 5 and 6.”

He added: “All ticket holders for the cancelled racedays on January 1 and 3 will be able to transfer to future race days or will receive a full refund. Racecourse staff will endeavour to process all transfers and refunds as quickly as possible.”

Welsh Grand National to take place behind closed doors

The Coral Welsh Grand National will take place without spectators for the second successive season at Chepstow on Monday.

The Welsh government has confirmed all sporting events in Wales will be held behind closed doors from Boxing Day due to the surge in coronavirus cases.

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething announced the new measures for indoor and outdoor sporting events in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Gething said: “Sporting events over the Christmas period are one of the big highlights of the year. Unfortunately, the new Omicron variant is a significant development in the pandemic and could cause a large number of infections.

“We need to do everything we can to protect people’s health and control the spread of this awful virus.

“Throughout the pandemic we have followed scientific and public health advice to keep people safe. The advice is clear – we need to act now in response to the threat of Omicron. We are giving people as much notice of these decisions as we can.

“Crowds will come back as soon as possible. We want everyone to be here to enjoy their favourite sports.”

Traditionally staged on December 27, the Welsh Grand National is the highlight of the year at Chepstow.

Secret Reprieve on his way to winning last year's Coral Welsh Grand National
Secret Reprieve on his way to winning last year’s Coral Welsh Grand National (David Davies/PA)

With the course waterlogged 12 months ago, last season’s renewal was rescheduled to take place in early January, but there were no paying customers on course to witness the impressive victory of the Evan Williams-trained Secret Reprieve.

More than 6,000 tickets have been sold in advance of this year’s meeting, but it will now once again take place without a crowd.

Chepstow Racecourse posted on Twitter: “Following the Welsh Government’s announcement, fixtures until mid-January will be run behind closed doors, without spectators, including the Coral Welsh Grand National. We’ll be contacting impacted customers very soon.”

Leopardstown able to honour Christmas Festival bookings

Spectators who had already bought tickets for Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival will be admitted but no more tickets will be sold.

On Friday the Irish Government made the decision to implement the National Public Heath Emergency Team’s recommendation that limits attendances to 50 per cent of capacity or 5,000, whichever is lower.

Leopardstown is able to accommodate the new limit of 5,000 due to a combination of cancellations and the cooperation of sponsors and stakeholders which meant those who had purchased tickets could still go if they wanted.

In a statement, the racecourse said: “Leopardstown Racecourse’s priority is to deliver a safe and enjoyable experience for all our patrons, aligned with public health directives.

“We have examined all our ticket allocations since the announcement on Friday and have had a number of cancellations from customers who will be fully refunded. We have also been working over the weekend with our commercial partners and stakeholders, and with their generous cooperation have regained enough capacity to allow us facilitate all those who purchased on public sale their tickets for the Leopardstown Christmas festival.

“As a result we are delighted that everyone who currently has a ticket for the Leopardstown Christmas Festival will be able to attend according to the details of their ticket.

“Unfortunately, there will be no additional tickets available to purchase for any day and admission without a ticket on the day of racing cannot be accommodated.”

Irish crowds set to grow after Taoiseach confirms plan to lift Covid restrictions

Irish racing crowds appear set to return in increased numbers from next week after confirmation in a briefing from The Taoiseach of plans to begin lifting the vast majority of remaining Covid-19 restrictions.

Among a raft of impending relaxations, Micheal Martin announced that, from next Monday September 6, there will be an easing of attendance restrictions at organised indoor and outdoor events.

The detailed arrangements published by the Irish Government on Tuesday evening included the new regulation that 75% of capacity will be available at outdoor events from the start of next week for vaccinated individuals.

The anticipated update follows recent submissions to Government from Horse Racing Ireland to double current capacity on course from 500 to 1,000 at each meeting – with consideration of up to 5,000 for both days of the Longines Irish Champions meeting, which will take place at Leopardstown and the Curragh on September 11 and 12.

Crowd restrictions for British racing have already been waived, as measures to mitigate against the coronavirus pandemic continue to be relaxed.

But in Ireland, stricter controls have remained – with the highest attendances coming when 1,000 racegoers were permitted both at the Galway Festival and for a Government pilot event when the Curragh hosted the Irish Derby in June.

Close to 90% of people over the age of 18 are now fully vaccinated in Ireland.

Mr Martin said in his address to the nation: “We are very unlikely to ever be able to be rid of the virus completely.

“Indeed, we expect to see an increase in case numbers over the coming weeks.

“But the combined strategy of careful reopening and energetic vaccination has brought us to a point where we can begin to do things differently.

“Sectors that remain closed or are still subject to massive restrictions, can begin to hope again.

“Obviously, we must remain vigilant and nimble, and if a new dangerous variant of concern emerges or if our hospitals come under unsustainable pressure again, we will move quickly to respond to the situation.

“But what is very clear is the efficacy of our vaccines in protecting against severe illness, ICU admission and death.

“Given this, a range of remaining restrictions will be gradually and carefully eased during September, with a view to achieving a significant change in approach towards the end of October.”

RCA will work with Government over coronavirus contingency plans

The Racecourse Association is anticipating a “significant logistical operation” after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced full Covid vaccination will be a requirement for entry to “venues where large crowds gather” from October.

The Prime Minister was speaking on ‘Freedom Day’ as previous coronavirus restrictions come to an end in England – permitting the return of full crowds to racecourses and other major venues for the first time since March 2020.

However, he spelled out that a new regulation will come into force this autumn when proof of double vaccination against coronavirus will be needed for admission to “nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather”.

Mr Johnson said: “I should serve notice now that by the end of September, when all over 18s will have had the chance to be double jabbed, we are planning to make full vaccination the condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather.

“Proof of a negative test will no longer be sufficient.”

The RCA will seek further clarification of detailed plans but has issued a statement confirming the intention to work with Government on necessary contingency plans.

It read: “The RCA notes today’s announcement from the Prime Minister that as of October 1 2021, the Covid Pass is to be made mandatory for certain events in England.

“We welcome the fact that this inception date will allow all British adults to have the option of being double vaccinated.

“While we all sincerely hope the days of Covid restrictions are behind us, it is vital that horseracing and the wider sports/leisure economies have contingency plans to avoid commercially damaging restrictions being re-imposed but equally allow us to host safe events.

“Our immediate attention now turns to working with Government, stakeholder partners and member racecourses to understand the detail behind this plan and map out what will be a significant logistical operation.”

Crowd limit remains at Musselburgh despite easing of restrictions

Musselburgh will remain limited to a crowd of 1,000 for its next three meetings – but then hopes to accommodate 5,000 for the popular Stobo Castle Ladies Day next month.

It was announced on Tuesday that Scotland will move to Level Zero Covid-19 restrictions from the start of next week.

But conditions on crowds attending outdoor events in Scotland, a remaining measure to combat coronavirus, mean the move will not allow Musselburgh to significantly boost numbers on course just yet.

Musselburgh general manager Bill Farnsworth noted the “negative impact that continued restrictions are having across all our Scottish courses”.

There is nonetheless optimism that – with the planned lifting of those restrictions from August 9 – Ladies Day, on August 20, may be a much busier event.

Farnsworth explained the practical reasons why crowds will, in the meantime, have to remain limited.

He said: “The summer racing calendar is the mainstay of racing in Scotland and provides a revenue stream which sustains our racecourses throughout the year

“The lifting of certain restrictions yesterday means that at Musselburgh we would be permitted to have up to 1,500 visitors – but with the need for those guests to be seated at all times when consuming alcohol, we are logistically unable to accommodate that many people and so will have to limit attendance to only 1,000.

“We are hopeful that from August 9 those restrictions will be lifted and we can welcome back larger crowds – which are vital to Musselburgh and other Scottish courses if we are to begin the long road to economic recovery.

“We will continue to work within all the relevant agencies and adhere to regulations for the safety of our staff and participants, while navigating a way through the negative impact that continued restrictions are having across all our Scottish courses.”

Racecourses boosted by confirmation of July 19 lockdown easing

The return of capacity crowds at British racecourses moved another step closer on Monday when Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the plan for further easing of lockdown restrictions in England will go ahead on July 19.

Step 4 in the road map includes the lifting of social distancing and removing the obligation to wear face coverings – but the public are still advised to wear them in crowded, indoor spaces “such as public transport”.

The Prime Minister said: “It is absolutely vital that we proceed with caution” and that “the pandemic is not over” but confirmed that the so-called “freedom day” would see the end of most restrictions.

Royal Ascot's crowds were restricted to 12,000 this year
Royal Ascot’s crowds were restricted to 12,000 this year (Steven Paston/PA)

Ascot hosts the first major raceday after restrictions have been lifted with the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes on July 24, while Beverley, Cartmel and Windsor are the tracks in England in action at the beginning of the week.

However, some protocols are expected to remain in place at racecourses to protect the participants.

Racecourse chief executive David Armstrong said: “It is fantastic news that racecourses in England will be able to welcome racegoers without restriction from Monday July 19. The RCA is working closely with the racecourses in England to prepare for full capacities and we will continue to communicate with our industry partners and the devolved governments for an update from Wales and Scotland.

“It has been a difficult time for the racing industry and we estimate that the pandemic has cost racecourses £400m. However, with some of the sport’s most iconic marquee events just around the corner, including the Qatar Goodwood Festival, Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival and Cazoo St Leger Festival, it looks set to be a brilliant summer of racing.”

He went on: “The RCA, alongside Great British Racing, is working to attract racegoers back on course, reminding everyone that racing is a great day out for all. It is also important to remember that racecourses are safe venues to visit. As well as having vast amounts of outdoor space the racecourses, in line with government messaging, will encourage spectators to remain vigilant and use their own judgement while on course to keep everybody comfortable and safe.

“In order to protect racing’s key participants and minimise the risk of self-isolation, it may be necessary for a small number of restrictions to remain in place, but these will be removed as soon as it is deemed safe to do so.”

The British Horseracing Authority said in a statement: “It is very pleasing to hear that the planned easing of restrictions which were announced last week have today been confirmed.

“The return of spectators to race meetings in greater numbers in England represents a significant and much needed step along the sport’s plans for recovery from the impacts of Covid-19. We await further announcements from the Scottish and Welsh Governments on their Covid regulations later this week.

“The industry is working together to finalise the infection control measures that will be in place to protect the sport’s participants, particularly those working mainly in and around the Weighing Room Complex, which remains a higher-risk area.

“Full details of these plans will be published in the coming days.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

The Prime Minister also said at his Downing Street press conference that now was the right time to lift restrictions due to the “natural firebreak” of the school holidays.

“We also know if we were to now delay this fourth step, for instance to September, or later, then we would be reopening as the weather gets colder and as the virus acquires a greater natural advantage and when schools are back,” he said.

“We think now is the right moment to proceed when we have the natural firebreak of the school holidays in the next few days.”

Racecourses in England set to welcome return of full crowds

Officials at the Racecourse Association and British Horseracing Authority have welcomed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that the limit on numbers attending sporting events is likely to be lifted as part of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in England on July 19.

Though a final decision will not be made until next Monday, the Prime Minister outlined plans that include the one-metre social distancing rule to be scrapped, as well as the compulsory wearing of face coverings.

The RCA, through its working groups and partnerships within the sport, will now focus its attention to supporting racecourses in preparing for full capacities and seeking similar clarification from devolved governments in Scotland and Wales.

Since May 17 there has been a cap of 4,000 allowed at meetings, except for Royal Ascot where up to 12,000 could attend as part of a Government pilot scheme.

Crowds were back at Royal Ascot this year
Crowds were back at Royal Ascot this year (David Davies/PA)

The news of the lifting of limited numbers will come as a boost to the sport, especially with big meetings such as the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on July 24, five days of Glorious Goodwood from July 27-31 and York’s Ebor meeting from August 18-21 on the horizon.

RCA chief executive David Armstrong said: “It has been 476 days since British racecourses were able to welcome racegoers without restriction. Clearly this has been a difficult time for racecourses on both a commercial level, we estimate the pandemic has cost racecourses £400 million, and human level — we have deeply missed the atmosphere and presence of racegoers.

“The clarity provided by today’s Government announcement is wonderful news for racecourses in England and we will continue to work closely with our industry partners and the devolved governments for an update from Wales and Scotland.

“With some of the sport’s marquee events to come including the Qatar Goodwood Festival, York’s Ebor Festival and the Cazoo St Leger Festival at Doncaster, our attention now turns to helping racecourses prepare for a fantastic summer.

“Certain restrictions may remain in place to protect racing’s participants, but we will work closely with our partners across the sport to remove these as quickly as is possible whilst maintaining their safety.”

Until recently, racing had been held behind closed doors since its resumption in June last year
Until recently, racing had been held behind closed doors since its resumption in June last year (David Davies/PA)

BHA chair Annamarie Phelps also reacted positively, saying: “We are delighted to hear the Prime Minister’s announcement today. Monday July 19 will be a significant day for all sports, and very much so for British racing.

“This news comes as a huge boost to an industry which relies so heavily on its nearly six million racegoing fans each year. A day at the races with the wonderful atmosphere generated by our racegoers is an experience unlike any other.

“Everyone involved in our sport has been looking forward to this news for the last 13 months, and worked tirelessly and with great patience to safely keep the show on the road in this time.”

However, Phelps added: “While racing is perfectly suited to spectators enjoying a sporting experience in a safe environment, it may remain the case that some protocols around the operation of sporting events for participants and officials remain in place in order to protect sports from the potential impact of positive cases and close contact self-isolation requirements, and permit international competitors.

“We are currently working with our industry colleagues to consider how this might apply to racing and how our racedays will therefore operate from July 19 onwards, and we await further clarity from Government.

“We also look forward to spectators being permitted to return to sporting events in Scotland and Wales in greater numbers in due course, and continue to engage proactively with the Devolved Administrations on this issue.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a media briefing in Downing Street
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a media briefing in Downing Street (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

The Prime Minister said that it is a “propitious moment” to ease coronavirus restrictions, suggesting it would be harder to end them in the autumn and winter months.

He told a Downing Street press conference: “If we do find another variant that doesn’t respond to the vaccines, if heaven forbid some really awful new bug should appear, then clearly we will have to take whatever steps we need to do to protect the public.

“But on balance, given the massive success of the vaccine rollout, given the fact that this is a propitious moment, a good moment to do it given the coming summer holidays, the natural firebreak we have there, and given the difficulty of then imagining us opening up in the context of the colder autumn/winter months, I think this is a balanced and cautious approach.”

Crowd restrictions remain after lockdown relaxation is delayed

Some restrictions will remain in place on racecourses until at least July 19 after the Government announced a four-week delay to the planned relaxation of Covid-19 measures in England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had intended to lift restrictions on June 21, but that date has been pushed back due to a rise in cases linked to the Delta variant of the virus.

He told a Downing Street press conference that the spread of the Delta variant meant “we have obviously faced a very difficult choice”.

“We can simply keep going with all of Step 4 on June 21, even though there is a real possibility that the virus will outrun the vaccines and that thousands more deaths would ensue which could otherwise have been avoided,” he said.

“Or else we can give the NHS a few more crucial weeks to get those remaining jabs into the arms of those who need them.

“And since today I cannot say that that we have met all our four tests for proceeding with Step 4 on June 21, I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer.”

Racecourses are currently permitted to have a crowd of 4,000 people, or 50 per cent capacity, whichever number is lower.

This week’s Royal Ascot meeting will have up to 12,000 spectators a day though, as it is part of the Government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), with attendees having undergone lateral flow and PCR testing.

A statement on behalf of the racing industry said “the announcement is a further financial blow to the racing industry, a significant proportion of whose revenues are generated from racegoers’ attendance at race meetings”.

It added that “major events due to take place during the four-week period of delay include the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown Park racecourse and Newmarket’s Moët & Chandon July Festival. This is not a sustainable situation for a £4 billion industry”.

David Armstrong, chief executive of the Racecourse Association (RCA), estimates the delay to removing restrictions will result in a loss of between £15million and £20m for racecourses and intends to continue pressing for tracks to be allowed the same limits as seated sports stadia.

He said: “Naturally we are disappointed to hear of a delay to stage four of the route map to recovery but acknowledge it has been activated due to public health concerns.

“It is important to note that this will have a significant commercial effect on racecourses that had sold many thousands of tickets for events after June 21 – we estimate a loss of between £15m and £20m due to a four-week delay.

“The industry will continue to press hard for racecourses to receive the same 10,000 capacity limits as seated stadia. Whilst this will lessen the hit, it is still far from commercially viable in what is the peak season for welcoming spectators.”

Julie Harrington, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), added: “While it is disappointing that plans for the relaxation of restrictions and the further return of spectators have been delayed, we of course understand the principle that Government’s decisions should be evidence-based and public health must come first.

“Many of our racegoers will be frustrated by this delay, but we are doing all we can to work with national and local authorities to maximise the number of people allowed to attend race-meetings in safety.”

The statement added industry figures will now consider whether “it should seek further support through the Sport Survival Package” in the absence of spectators, while continuing to work with the HBLB on securing £21m in loan funding from the winter survival fund.

Royal Ascot to welcome back daily crowd of 12,000

Royal Ascot is set to host a daily crowd of 12,000 next month.

The racecourse confirmed on Wednesday that this year’s five-day showpiece meeting will be able to welcome back three times more than the attendance which had been anticipated.

Ascot officials were planning to have 4,000 racegoers each day, from June 15-19, under current national policy as coronavirus restrictions ease during step three of the Government’s road map.

However, the meeting has been added – alongside the second cricket Test at Edgbaston in England’s series against New Zealand – to the list of pilot events to take place before the possible lifting of all legally-imposed measures to curtail the pandemic, on June 21.

Among the pilots so far staged, a crowd of more than 20,000 was permitted for this month’s FA Cup Final at Wembley.

A statement from Ascot read: “Ascot Racecourse, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and the Racecourse Association (RCA) announce today that Royal Ascot (June 15-19) has been selected to be part of the Events Research Programme (ERP) on behalf of the sport.

“While the precise detail of what will be trialled and what the requirements from visitors to the racecourse will be remains work in progress, it is confirmed today that 12,000 people will be admitted each day to Royal Ascot.

“As details are confirmed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and following input from Public Health England and Ascot’s Safety Advisory Group, they will become available on: www.ascot.co.uk

“Today’s announcement means that all those who rolled over their 2020 bookings can now be accommodated, and an allocation of Royal Enclosure Badges and Queen Anne (General Admission) tickets will go on sale this Friday, May 28.

Ascot chief executive Guy Henderson said: “We are delighted that Royal Ascot has been accepted to play its part in the next phase of the Government’s Events Research Programme. We much look forward to welcoming 12,000 racegoers each day.

Royal Ascot will take place - with a crowd of 12,000 back this year - from June 15-19
Royal Ascot will take place – with a crowd of 12,000 back this year – from June 15-19 (Julian Finney/PA)

“Our thanks go to our industry bodies, the British Horseracing Authority and the Racecourse Association, which led the preparation of the submission to Government.”

BHA chief executive Julie Harrington added: “It is excellent news that Ascot will be included in the Events Research Programme as a pilot event.

“It is an opportunity to demonstrate how racing events are perfectly suited to safely hosting spectators in greater numbers as we progress through the Government’s roadmap for the easing of lockdown restrictions.

“We are grateful to DCMS, and this outcome reflects the strong and positive relationship between racing and Government. Working with colleagues, we will ensure that our participants remain protected to the same degree that has been achieved with racing’s bespoke coronavirus protocols since resumption in June 2020.”

RCA chief executive David Armstrong said: “I am so pleased that Royal Ascot has been selected as part of the ERP program.

“The RCA and the Industry Return of Spectators Group have worked closely with the ERP (and its predecessor groups) to develop pilot options across racing which demonstrate the safe nature of the racecourse environment and the strength of our operating protocols.

“The Ascot team have done an outstanding job in configuring the course for this pilot, and racegoers and participants alike can look forward to an exceptional Royal Ascot experience delivered to the highest standards of safety.”

Ascot director of racing and public affairs Nick Smith reiterated the course’s gratitude to those who helped as pilot status was sought – and confirmed the task to contact 2020 ticket-holders is about to begin.

“A lot of credit (must go) to the BHA, the RCA for helping us get this over the line,” he told Sky Sports Racing.

“The Government is obviously very pleased with our submission and see very clearly that an event like Royal Ascot – which is spread over such a huge site, so much of it outside, so much track and parade-ring viewing – suited their programme well.

“At the end of last week, because we were unsure whether we were going to get the go-ahead for this pilot, we’d begun the process of informing our rollover customers – those who had Royal Enclosure badges or Queen Anne, general admission badges – that in all likelihood some of those badges would be balloted out.

“So we set the unfortunate groundwork for that process. Now it’s a process of going back to those people and saying ‘We’re really pleased to be able to tell you we’re 12,000, you’re top of the list, you’ve already got your tickets or your badges, (so) whatever you bought for 2020 is now valid for 2021’.”

Most are expected to take up the offer, and Smith added: “I should imagine those on the rollover will be very keen to come – but of course, if they’re still uncomfortable about coming, they have the opportunity to take a refund or to roll over again until 2022.

“Once we’ve sorted that side of things out, we go on sale on the 28th, this Friday, for both Royal Enclosure and Queen Anne – and we’ll be able to welcome many more people than we thought we may be able to.

“It certainly is (going to be busy couple of weeks). It will be an interesting period – we still haven’t got all the details, for example, of the testing procedures that are going to be required.

“But it’s safe to say that everybody who comes on site – whether they’re a participant, or a visitor, or working on the site – will have to return a lateral flow test, at the bare minimum.”

The arrangement of pilot events, which have so far taken place elsewhere, appears to have gone well.

Smith said: “It really has – which is why the Government has given the green light to these phase two events now, with much larger crowds.

“This will help build the data they need to try to get things back to normal as soon as possible.

“That won’t happen overnight, on June 21 – I’m sure of that. But it’ll be a phased approach to letting more and more people in, and the data from these events is going to be absolutely pivotal.

“So we’re very, very pleased to be able to play our part in that.

“I wouldn’t normally be so bold – but I’d say we’re quite confident that it will be quite popular, and we’ll have nearly 60,000 people on the site during the week.

“It’s going to feel like a normal Royal Ascot, just a bit of a mini one.”

William Haggas and Roger Varian practice social distancing before the Hardwicke Stakes during day four of last year's Royal Ascot
William Haggas and Roger Varian practice social distancing before the Hardwicke Stakes during day four of last year’s Royal Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)

Top trainer William Haggas also welcomed the news – and praised those involved in keeping racing going during the pandemic.

The Newmarket handler said: “I think it’s fantastic all round, but I was pretty disappointed you could get 10,000 watching Wolves (in the Premier League) and only 4,000 at Ascot. I think it’s hopefully a sign there is light at the end of the tunnel – it can’t be anything other than fantastic news for racing.

“This time last year none of us had any idea what would happen – would Ascot happen, would it be a month later, we didn’t know. The BHA got that bit right, and we’ve raced as an industry every day bar Christmas – and to do that has been pretty phenomenal.”

Tracks poised for return of racegoers

Monday marks the end of racing behind closed doors as courses are permitted to welcome a limited number of spectators.

The latest milestone in the government’s roadmap out of lockdown allows racecourses to host 4,000 fans or fill the course to 50% capacity – whichever is the lesser number.

There is also a slight easing in restrictions on course, with owners able to access the parade ring to meet trainers and jockeys and masks only compulsory in the paddock and indoor areas.

Carlisle, Redcar, Leicester and Windsor all host fixtures on Monday and will therefore be the first tracks to benefit from the change in policy, with Ffos Las still restricted to racing behind closed doors due to the differing stance between the English and Welsh governments.

The impact of Covid-19 left Carlisle unable to host a single Flat fixture last year, but the Cumbrian track was able to run a behind-closed-doors jumps programme from October onwards.

Officials at Carlisle are excited to reinstate the Flat action in front of paying spectators.

“We’re delighted to be able to welcome back Flat racing to Carlisle after such a long absence and it’s particularly fitting that it coincides with the first day of spectators being allowed to return to racecourses,” said Molly Dingwall, general manager at Carlisle.

“The pandemic has had a huge impact on sport as a whole and we’ve felt that just as keenly at Carlisle racecourse. It was disappointing not to be able to host our Flat programme last year and that meant some historic races did not take place, but we couldn’t be more excited about Monday.

“Owners, trainers and spectators have been so supportive of the course over the years, not to mention incredibly patient.

“The team here have been absolutely brilliant and have worked incredibly hard to keep the course in great condition. We can’t wait to welcome everyone back for what should be a fantastic summer of Flat racing.”

Redcar will have spectators on course on Monday
Redcar will have spectators on course on Monday (Tony Knapton/PA)

Redcar stages an eight-race card, with the first race fittingly named the Great To Welcome You Back Median Auction Maiden Stakes.

Redcar’s general manager Amy Fair said: “We’re really looking forward to welcoming spectators back after so long, we’ve really missed the atmosphere they bring, but the emphasis has to remain very much on public safety.”

Leicester will also be in action, with a seven-race evening card kicking off at 5.05pm after over a year of racing in front of empty grandstands.

Empty stands at Leicester in March
Empty stands at Leicester in March (Tim Goode/PA)

David Maykels, general manager of the racecourse, said: “We are looking forward to welcoming annual members and the public back after 15 long months.

“Tomorrow evening sees further relaxation also for owners, who can now enter the parade ring and winners enclosure for their race.

“We have hired a large marquee until September to facilitate hospitality clients and owners due to losing our boxes and club room for jockeys and stewards.

“Tomorrow we will be providing the paddock pavilion for owners and trainers, plus in annual members we will be providing some welcome-back bubbly to thank them for their support.

“Let us hope this is the start of a special summer and beyond.”

Racing crowds will return as pandemic restrictions ease next week

Racecourses in England will be able to welcome customers through their gates from next Monday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced step three of the road map out of lockdown will go ahead as planned.

The British Horseracing Authority responded to the Prime Minister’s confirmation by giving the green light for crowds to return from May 17 – up to a maximum of 4,000 or 50% of capacity, whichever number is lower.

The first meetings able to race in front of a crowd will be Redcar and Carlisle on Monday afternoon – before Leicester and Windsor race in the evening.

Ffos Las race on Monday too, but the Welsh Government has still to announce a change to protocols – so for the time being, meetings will continue behind closed doors there.

The partial lifting of coronavirus restrictions means the Cazoo Derby meeting will be run in front of paying customers next month, and Royal Ascot will also have a crowd – although because stage four does not begin until June 21, it remains unclear whether that showpiece meeting will be able to host 10,000.

Since lockdowns began last March, spectators on racecourses have been restricted to pilot events at Doncaster and Warwick in September and limited crowds at a handful of meetings in December.

In a joint-statement issued by the BHA, the Racecourse Association and the Horsemen’s Group, it was also confirmed that owners will also be allowed to see their horses and meet with their trainers and jockeys in the parade ring from next week.

Richard Wayman, Chief Operating Officer of the BHA, said: “It is extremely exciting that we are finally able to welcome racegoers back to our racecourses.

“It will allow racing’s many fans to come back to the sport they love after more than a year away. We know there is a huge public demand for families and friends to meet up, outdoors, enjoy great food and drink and the unique social occasion of a race meeting.

“In addition, from next week, racing can once again offer our owners the opportunity to feel much closer to the action on a racecourse by returning to the parade ring. Racing’s leaders very much appreciate the commitment and patience shown by owners over the past year when their attendance and experience at racecourses has been restricted by the pandemic.”

David Armstrong, chief executive of the RCA, said: “This next step in the Government’s road map is hugely important milestone in the recovery of British Racing.

“Racecourses are very excited to welcome racegoers back and to be able to offer them a full race day experience whilst extending our provision for owners to whom the sport remain greater in for their continued support.

“Lockdown began almost 14 months ago, and it has been a very challenging journey for the industry and for racecourses in particular through several false starts and aborted pilot events. May 17 marks a key step on the return to normality.”

Charlie Liverton, Chief Executive of the ROA said: “Owners have played a critical role in keeping horse racing going behind closed doors throughout the past 12 months, contributing over £30million a month in training fees alone.

“While the invoices have continued, the ability to go racing and be a part of the race day experience has been greatly hindered as the country, and the wider industry, dealt with the pandemic at large.

“It is therefore a welcome step that come May 17 owners can get a step closer to the action with a return to the parade ring.

“There is more work to be done, and we will continue to work with the BHA and RCA to improve the race day experience for owners, while recognising this milestone in the Government’s roadmap.”

British racing to receive £21million through sports survival package

Leaders of British racing have welcomed the government announcement that £21million of loan funding will be made available through the sports winter survival package.

The money will be lent to the Levy Board due to its role in providing central funding of industry costs of race-day regulation, equine welfare and industry training, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has announced.

The funding is to ensure essential race day integrity costs and related health and safety expenditure are safeguarded, enabling the Levy Board to continue their programme of financial support and funding into the industry, which has suffered as a result of Covid-19.

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Julie Harrington said: “We are extremely grateful to officials at Sport England, DCMS and the Treasury for their support in agreeing this funding to racing.

“We are grateful also to the Levy Board for agreeing to our proposal and borrowing this money to support the central funding of racing.

“This money will help ensure racing continues behind closed doors despite the absence of spectator revenues. This will benefit our racecourses, our participants and their communities, and the vital role racing plays as an employer and contributor to the rural economy.”

David Armstrong, chief executive of the Racecourse Association, added: “The RCA and its Members are very grateful to the Levy Board, DCMS and Sport England for putting in place this vital funding for the sport.

“Racecourses have suffered lost turnover of over £325m since the pandemic began and this funding will provide a crucial bridge for both racecourses and horsemen as we begin the long road to recovery.”