Tag Archive for: crowds

Royal Ascot capacity reduced following feedback

Crowd capacity this year’s Royal Ascot will be reduced as the track attempts to “improve customer experience” at the showpiece meeting.

Attendance at the fixture was capped at 12,000 last year due to covid restrictions and following feedback from racegoers, plus what Ascot has termed “a long term ambition”, numbers will be reduced across the Royal Enclosure, Queen Anne Enclosure and Windsor Enclosure for all five days of the Royal meeting.

The Royal Enclosure capacity will reduced by 1,000 people while the Royal Enclosure Gardens will be extended to create a new area next to the track.

Capacities for the Queen Anne and Windsor Enclosures will be reduced by 4,150 and 2,000 respectively and new facilities will be introduced while the Village Enclosure, located on the Heath in the middle of the course, will be in operation for the first time since 2019, with “space and scope” to increase the previous capacity of 6,500.

The Queen was back at Royal Ascot in 2021 to watch her Derby prospect Reach For The Moon
The Queen was back at Royal Ascot in 2021 to watch her Derby prospect Reach For The Moon (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Felicity Barnard, Ascot’s commercial director, said: “We are really pleased to be making these customer-focused changes to Royal Ascot this summer. They will provide an improved experience for all our racegoers across the three main enclosures, ensuring a more enjoyable atmosphere and better access to facilities throughout the site.

“A key message in the feedback from the 2021 Royal Meeting, when attendance was limited to 12,000 per day as part of the Government’s Events Research Programme, was that people really appreciated the benefit of additional space.

“This set us on a journey to look at how we could reduce density to improve comfort across the site going forward in a ‘normal’ scenario. Incorporating feedback from previous years and other racedays, it became clear to us that we needed to make a fundamental change in terms of the capacities across the site.”

Barnard went on: “This was especially the case in our premier public area – the Queen Anne Enclosure – and reducing the number of people there significantly and investing in improved facilities will deliver a much better environment for people to enjoy the world-class racing on show.

“It is crucial that we protect the unique and very special sense of occasion that people feel when they come to Royal Ascot and we hope that these changes will provide an enhanced experience for all our racegoers.

“Ticket sales have been strong since launch last summer and they will clearly be in higher demand as a result of these changes at what will be a special Royal Meeting in the Platinum Jubilee year.”

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.”

York welcomes 30,000 crowd back to ‘bit of normality’

York racecourse boss William Derby welcomed the sight of busy grandstands as the track hosted its first unrestricted crowd for 18 months.

The Knavesmire, along with Ascot hosting the first full Saturday attendance since the relaxation of coronavirus measures this week, staged the Group Two Sky Bet York Stakes – with live music from Rick Astley and then McFly providing added entertainment after racing over the past two days.

York was almost full to capacity on Saturday, with remaining walk-up tickets available only in the centre of the track.

“We’re really pleased that racegoers can return in more normal numbers today,” said Derby, chief executive and the clerk of the course.

“We raced yesterday evening, and it tasted a bit like normality. We’re pleased to be back today, with great racing and music again tonight.

“We had about 10,000 last night and we think about 30,000 today. We reached our capacity on the stands’ side – but people could turn up for the Clock Tower enclosure in the middle of the course today, where they can enjoy their picnics, the seven races and the music.”

The meeting comes ahead of next month’s Ebor Festival, York’s headline fixture and one which is likely to attract similar numbers.

“It’s been a long 18 months for everyone in the country,” added Derby.

“It’s great we’re back – and from our perspective, we’re looking forward to next month for our flagship meeting, the Ebor Festival.

“We’re pleased to be getting back and having a successful rest of the year. People seem to be enjoy being back out and bringing a bit of normality to their lives.”

A crowd of nearly 15,000 attended Ascot to watch Adayar back up his Derby victory with a convincing success in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes.

“There’s something very special when a horse goes straight from the Derby to the Arc and there was no hiding place today,” said Nick Smith, director of racing and public affairs at the track.

“That was a perfect horse race. Sometimes the King George produces a hero and sometimes it confirms a hero but I think the public love to engage with three-year-olds.

“This isn’t just Ascot’s midsummer showpiece, it is Flat racing’s highlight of the summer and today it certainly lived up to its billing.

“It takes a special Derby winner to win this which sometimes gets lost, but today what made it so special was the strength of the older horses. The winner has clearly got so much more to give as he was such a late developer.

“And of course, the big thing today was the crowd. To hear them cheering the horses home and then the reception William (Buick, winning rider) got when he came back in, it was brilliant.”

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.”

Gosden keen to welcome owners and spectators back this spring

John Gosden believes owners will be “in as safe an environment as you can possibly have” when they return to the racecourse in the spring.

British racing has confirmed plans to welcome owners and amateur riders back on course from March 29 – with a mid-May return of spectators, in line with the Government’s road map for easing coronavirus restrictions.

The British Horseracing Authority announced its proposed schedule on Friday evening, following this week’s publication of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s four-step route towards the end of lockdown over the coming months.

Winter Derby debrief with Robert Havlin and John Gosden
Winter Derby debrief with Robert Havlin and John Gosden (PA)

The champion trainer – who enjoyed another big-race success at Lingfield on Saturday – attributes the huge open spaces on our racecourses as a watertight reason why the Government should loosen the shackles and allow owners and then crowds into the racing arena.

He said: “We proved all last year that we are in as safe an environment as you could possibly have.

“Through lockdown, we’ve all looked forward to late March and early April when spring happens.

“We must be thankful that we have been able to tick along – but as soon as the Government gives us the green light we have hundreds of acres of huge open spaces on our racecourses, which some people haven’t quite clocked.”

BHA welcomes road map announcement

The British Horseracing Authority has underlined its commitment to getting both owners and racegoers back on course after Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a possible mid-May date for the return of limited crowds to English sports venues.

Aside from a couple of trial events and a handful of fixtures before Christmas, racing has been staged behind closed doors since its return last June following the first national lockdown.

Owners were permitted to return in limited numbers in July and throughout the summer, but the third lockdown imposed on January 4 meant on-course attendance was again limited to essential personnel only.

The Prime Minister laid out his road map for the easing of coronavirus restrictions in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, with a limited return of crowds put into step three of a phased recovery plan, with a date of no earlier than May 17.

Indoor events will be capped at 50 per cent capacity or 1,000, whichever is lower, and for outdoor events this will be 50 per cent capacity or 4,000, whichever is lower, with special provision for large, outdoor, seated venues where crowds can be safely distributed, allowing up to 10,000 people or 25 per cent of total seated capacity, whichever is lower.

Pilots will also run to examine how such events can take place without the need for social distancing, using other mitigations such as testing, the Government said and the BHA has indicated it will seek discussions regarding possible test events.

A statement read: “On behalf of British racing and all those who work in our industry, we very much welcome the government’s announcement today of a road map for the removal of the current Covid restrictions.

“The whole sport has worked hard to abide by our race-day protocols to allow racing to continue behind closed doors and support the many livelihoods that depend on our industry. British racing’s classification as an elite sport made this possible. But we do miss owners and we do miss spectators whose presence at meetings contributes so much to the thrill of our sport.

“We have already introduced additional measures to reduce the risks of transmission of the virus and have further options under consideration. We will now engage with government to highlight our ability to move beyond the current limitation on essential staff only as soon as that is possible and allow the return of owners.

“Racing continues to benefit from the incredible loyalty shown by owners. We will clarify as soon as possible when they can return to race-meetings, and when amateurs can resume riding.

“The government has also published details today on the potential timings for the return of spectators to elite sport. We have further discussions with officials scheduled which will enable us to draw up specific proposals for race meetings, including potential pilot events.

“We also expect to hear further details of the plans for Scotland and Wales which are not covered by today’s announcement.”

Betting shops are not due to reopen until April 12 at the earliest
Betting shops are not due to reopen until April 12 at the earliest (Liam McBurney/PA)

Non-essential retail will not reopen until April 12 at the earliest, meaning betting shops will remain closed for both the Cheltenham Festival and the Randox Grand National meeting at Aintree – two of the biggest betting events of the year.

The BHA statement added: “Whilst the publication of dates is a very positive sign, the absence of spectators from our big events is continuing to put a strain on racing’s revenues. This has been exacerbated by the closure of betting shops. Our financial discussions with government are ongoing.”

The Government’s plan sets out the lifting of restrictions in four steps. At each one, the success of the vaccine rollout, vaccine efficacy, the presence of variants and infection rates will be measured before deciding whether to take the next step.

The Prime Minister announced there will be a minimum five-week gap between each step – and easing of restrictions will happen on a nationwide, rather than a regional, basis.

Doncaster hosted a crowd pilot last summer
Doncaster hosted a crowd pilot last summer (David Davies/PA)

Pilot events for the return of spectators are expected to begin as part of the Government’s Event Research Programme from April.

These will use “enhanced testing approaches and other measures to run events with larger crowd sizes and reduced social distancing to evaluate the outcomes”.

Findings from pilots across the sport and cultural sectors will be brought together to develop a “consistent approach” to removing capacity limits as part of step four – which would start no earlier than June 21.

That date would fall two days after the end of Royal Ascot, but a limited attendance at Epsom for the Derby meeting, which begins on June 4, could be a possibility along with spectators at Goodwood’s May festival and the Temple Stakes fixture at Haydock on May 22.

Royal Ascot was held without spectators last year
Royal Ascot was held without spectators last year (Julian Finney/PA)

The Racecourse Association were satisfied with the news and is eager for racegoers to be “amongst the first sports fans to safely return”.

A statement read: “The RCA welcomes the announcement made by the Prime Minister outlining the route map out of national lockdown and a timeline for the safe return of spectators to major outdoor events.

“We will continue to work closely with our member racecourses, Government and relevant health and safety authorities to ensure that racegoers are amongst the first sports fans to safely return and enjoy a day’s racing.”

Mid-May return at earliest for racing crowds

Spectators are not expected to return to racecourses until mid-May at the earliest after Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out his road map for the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

While schools are set to return on March 8 and grassroots sport will be reinstated not before March 29, along with larger groups being allowed to gather in parks and gardens, the Prime Minster is planning to allow limited crowds back to sports venues only from May 17 at the earliest.

Indoor events will be capped at 50 per cent capacity or 1,000, whichever is lower, and for outdoor events this will be 50 per cent capacity or 4,000, whichever is lower.

Racing has largely been behind closed doors since last June
Racing has largely been behind closed doors since last June (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The road map includes special provision for large, outdoor, seated venues where crowds can be safely distributed, allowing up to 10,000 people or 25 per cent of total seated capacity, whichever is lower.

Pilots will also run to examine how such events can take place without the need for social distancing, using other mitigations such as testing, the Government said.

Non-essential retail will not reopen until April 12 at the earliest, meaning betting shops will remain closed for both the Cheltenham Festival and the Randox Grand National meeting at Aintree – two of the biggest betting events of the year.

The plan sets out the lifting of restrictions in four steps. At each one, the success of the vaccine rollout, vaccine efficacy, the presence of variants
and infection rates will be measured before deciding whether to take the next step.

The Prime Minister announced there will be a minimum five-week gap between each step – and easing of restrictions will happen on a nationwide, rather than a regional, basis.

A socially-distanced trial event took place at Doncaster last September
A socially-distanced trial event took place at Doncaster last September (David Davies/PA)

Racing returned behind closed doors last June following the first lockdown.

Racegoers were permitted for trial events at Warwick and Doncaster last September, although the planned four-day pilot on Town Moor was cut to just one day on the instruction of the local authority.

Limited crowds were then permitted under the local tiers system in December, with Cheltenham hosting up to 2,000 spectators at its December meeting and both Sandown and Aintree welcoming racegoers at feature fixtures that month.

However, under current lockdown measures, no racegoers or owners are allowed – with the on-track presence limited to only essential personnel.

Pilot events for the return of spectators are expected to begin as part of the Government’s Event Research Programme from April.

These will use “enhanced testing approaches and other measures to run events with larger crowd sizes and reduced social distancing to evaluate the outcomes”.

Trainers William Haggas  (left) and Roger Varian practice social distancing at Royal Ascot
Trainers William Haggas (left) and Roger Varian practice social distancing at Royal Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)

Findings from pilots across the sport and cultural sectors will be brought together to develop a “consistent approach” to removing capacity limits as part of step four – which would start no earlier than June 21.

The Racecourse Association were satisfied with the news and issued a statement which read: “The RCA welcomes the announcement made by the Prime Minister outlining the route map out of national lockdown and a timeline for the safe return of spectators to major outdoor events.

“We will continue to work closely with our member racecourses, Government and relevant health and safety authorities to ensure that racegoers are amongst the first sports fans to safely return and enjoy a day’s racing.”

Racegoers cheer Cheltenham return

Spectators returned to Cheltenham on Friday for the first time since the Festival in March.

Meetings in October and November were run behind closed doors, with only essential personnel and a limited number of owners in attendance, but the change in Government restrictions regarding crowds at sporting events meant up to 2,000 annual members could be on track.

Social distancing was adhered to, with masks worn throughout.

“The signage is very clear and some of the bars are even open,” said Ben Bramley, who made the journey from North Yorkshire.

“All members had to go in a ballot for the two days, but I think I’m right in saying everyone got what they wanted.

Socially distanced bookmakers at Cheltenham
Socially distanced bookmakers at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“It’s very well organised, signs for where you can and can’t go, but it was a real whimper that greeted the first race – I was expecting a bit more of a cheer to be honest!”

Neil and Janet Iveson are annual members and were delighted to be back on a racecourse for the first time since attending all four days of the Festival in March.

“We don’t like to miss a meeting at Cheltenham if we can help it, so after the disappointment of being unable to attend in October or November, it’s brilliant to be back,” said Janet Iveson.

“We actually haven’t been racing since Cheltenham Gold Cup day. It’s obviously a very different experience, but it’s better than not being able to go racing at all and we’re just thankful to be here.

“It was exciting watching the first race as we actually ended up standing close to the winning owners, who were very excited.

Racegoers at Cheltenham
Racegoers at Cheltenham (PA)

“We definitely feel very safe. Everyone is wearing a mask and you’re not stood that close to anybody else as there is so much room.”

David Pipe won the opening race with Make Me A Believer and said: “He got a great reception and it was lovely to hear it again.

“This is the first time I’ve been back at the races when there has been a crowd. It is great to have them back. Walking back into that winner’s enclosure, there was still an atmosphere.”

Ian Renton, Cheltenham and South West regional director of The Jockey Club, said: “We are close to the 2,000 limit.

“We’ve managed to accommodate virtually all our annual members, those that are eligible to come. Those that are in Tier 3, unfortunately we have had to exclude them. There is no public here, it is just members.

“It is a very small crowd, but it is lovely to see such happy people racing here for the first time since March. We had a fantastic finish to the first race. The atmosphere is surprisingly good for a small crowd.

“In October we had a good complement of owners here, November seemed a very strange meeting where we were limited to 45 owners each day.

“Normally you would look back at the stands and think ‘isn’t this sad to see it so sparse’, but for us it is fantastic to look back at the stands and think we have socially-distanced people doing exactly what they should be doing and wearing their masks.”

Aintree and Sandown delighted to welcome Saturday crowds

Aintree and Sandown were among the tracks to welcome back crowds on the first Saturday since the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

The end of the second national lockdown on Wednesday allowed sports in Tier 1 and 2 areas to have limited spectator attendance once again under the Government’s latest guidance, with up to 2,000 permitted in Tier 2 areas.

Both Aintree and Sandown come under the latter category – and officials at both courses spoke of their delight at another step towards normality.

One of the main fixture casualties of the original coronavirus shutdown was the Grand National at Aintree, meaning the paying public had not attended the Merseyside venue since the Becher Chase meeting a year ago.

Sulekha Varma, who became Aintree’s first female clerk of course ahead of this fixture last season, said: “To have spectators on course, I think everyone can feel it’s just lifted things.

“We’ve got plenty of owners in attendance as well, which is really good news, and really good quality racing.

Racegoers study the form at Aintree
Racegoers study the form at Aintree (Tim Goode/PA)

“Our limit is 2,000 people – that’s the limit the Government has placed on us. We’re certainly getting close to that, if not quite at it.

“The beauty of Aintree is it’s such a massive space that 2,000 people can keep their distance from each other very safely.

“It’s a step in the right direction – that’s the best way to put it. It’s the first step in what will be an ever-faster moving journey for us, and let’s hope this time next year we won’t even be thinking about it any more – that would be nice.

“It would be wonderful if we were getting close to that (normality) by the time the National meeting comes around, who knows?”

The card at Sandown was also the first meeting to host Grade One contests – including the Tingle Creek Chase – since the return of crowds.

Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper said: “It’s great to have a crowd of sorts back here. Hopefully it is the first step towards bigger crowds being allowed back in as soon as it is safe to do so.

“You can sense the difference in the atmosphere compared to the behind closed doors meetings. There are PA announcements, the buzz of the crowd, a roar as they approach the last and a big round of applause as the winner comes back in after the race.

“It’s all progress. It’s not quite where we want to be and we are not back to the old normal, but it is a big improvement on how we have been racing since June.”

Crowds ‘impeccable’ on return as spotlight moves on to Sandown

Racecourse officials are eagerly awaiting this weekend’s big-race action after being delighted with the response of Wednesday’s crowds – the first to be allowed back on track following the coronavirus lockdown.

Four courses were permitted to welcome up to a maximum of 2000 people under Tier 2 of the latest Covid-19 Government restrictions, following six months of racing behind closed doors.

Two of the those which staged the first return of crowds, Haydock and Kempton, come under the Jockey Club Racecourses banner.

Dickon White, north-west director for JCR, said: “It’s a great privilege to have hosted racing yesterday.

“I’m a massive racing fan, so it means a great deal to see people back at Haydock Park. It was a really important day, not just for us and the Jockey Club, but also the racing industry.

“This is the first stage back to normality, and you could sense the atmosphere around the course. The feedback was exceptional, and everyone behaved impeccably.”

Phil White, who is responsible for Kempton and Sandown as JCR’s London director, said: “It was really great to see spectators back at Kempton last night, and those I spoke to commented on how much they enjoyed the evening.

“It was great to trial the racegoer experience before other forthcoming fixtures to help make sure we continue to provide safe and enjoyable days out for racing fans.”

Altior is due to delight the Sandown crowd on Saturday
Altior is due to delight the Sandown crowd again on Saturday (Julian Herbert/PA)

The immediate focus for White is the two-day Betfair Tingle Creek Chase meeting at Sandown – starting on Friday, and for which Saturday tickets, and the chance to see dual Champion Chaser Altior in action in the feature race, sold out within minutes at the start of the week.

“Looking ahead to Sandown Park and the Betfair Tingle Creek Festival this weekend, it’s been fantastic to see such demand for tickets – and all the allocated general admission tickets are now sold across both days,” he said.

“We are all very much looking forward to welcoming spectators back on Friday and Saturday for two days of top class racing.”