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:

“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.”

BHA chief Harrington quells concerns over Foster’s Festival runners

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Julie Harrington is not anticipating any issues for Denise Foster-trained runners at next week’s Cheltenham Festival – although the regulator is still seeking to clarify conditions surrounding the transfer of Gordon Elliott’s string.

Foster, known on the Irish racing circuit as Sneezy, has taken charge of more than 200 horses – having previously trained just 10 winners in the preceding five years.

Elliott is currently banned for six months – with a further six suspended – following an image posted on social media which pictured him sat astride a dead horse.

With the Cheltenham Festival beginning on Tuesday, the BHA was pleased the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board handed out a swift punishment but is aware winners for the yard, which has been hugely successful at the meeting in recent years, will inevitably bring with them unwanted headlines.

Gordon Elliott is currently serving a suspension
Gordon Elliott is currently serving a suspension (Simon Marper/PA)

“We want the coverage to be about the great stories and the great achievements of the horses – it is the shop window for our sport,” Harrington said, in a zoom call with members of the media.

“It’s an opportunity for us to really shine and tell the positive stories that are linked to our sport.

“We’re doing everything we can to support everyone to tell those stories. We hope the focus is on the horses.

“We’re not naive, though – we know people will have questions, but what we don’t want to do is detract from all the hard work that goes into preparing horses for the Festival. It would be such a shame for everybody who has worked all year to get those horses ready to not get the airtime that they deserve.”

Should a Foster-trained runner be successful next week – and with the likes of Zanahiyr, Grand Roi and The Bosses Oscar all favourites for their respective races, the likelihood is there will at least be one – then Harrington is well aware of the potential to overshadow the meeting.

“If Denise Foster has winners at the Festivals, the story being around the connections of that horse is what I hope is put forward,” added Harrington.

“We are really pleased that our colleagues in Ireland acted swiftly, so that this wasn’t hanging over us throughout the Festival.

“That’s not as simple as to say ‘let’s draw a line under it and move on’ – but the sanction is in place. Our temporary ban is lifted, because Mr Elliott’s ban is in place, and those horses are free to run for other trainers.

“In terms of any conditions to her licence, that is a matter for the IHRB. But I’m in contact with Denis Egan (chief executive) at the IHRB, understanding what those conditions are for the good reputation of racing in Ireland and Britain.

The Elliott saga was all across the news last week
The Elliott saga was all across the news last week (PA Wire)

“We’re asking what conditions have been put in place. But that is a matter for the Irish – we’re currently seeking clarifications of what conditions are put in place. We’re assuming we’ll know before Cheltenham.

“It will be conditions to the licence rather than the sanction – that is where they will be applied. We’re asking for those but also making it clear what our views are on behalf of JCR (Jockey Club Racecourses) as well.

“We want to make sure that any horses attending are not clearly under the Gordon Elliott flag.

“I’ve made our views on it clear, and we’re waiting to hear what conditions will be applied to Denise. Then we will also be able to look, if we’re not happy, at what is available to us within our own rules.

“At this point we’re having really good discussions, so I’m not envisaging us getting to that point (preventing the horses running).”