Racegoers returned to Redcar on Monday as the seaside venue opened its gates to a crowd of almost 800.
The Teesside track was bathed in sunshine as the punters lapped up the opportunity to eat and drink outdoors and cheer home some winners – something they haven’t been able to do for well over a year.
There was a muted cheer – hardly reminiscent of Cheltenham’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – when the opening contest got under way, but a close conclusion meant the winner Grangeclare View was roared home.
Racegoer Chris Varley from Howarth, West Yorkshire, was especially glad to be back on course.
He said: “The last time I came as a punter was December 2019 at Southwell – it’s been a long time, a hell of a long time.
“We were here for 9.30am, we went for breakfast at the cafe down the road, went into the bookies for a couple of Lucky 15s and then came in.
“We’ve come today because we could, obviously, but we’d go to Redcar maybe half a dozen times in a normal year. It’s a lovely course, we love it.
“You can see everything, straight mile, it’s brilliant. It’s a two-hour drive but worth it.
“I did own a horse and half of another with Roger Fell, but as work dried up during the pandemic, I had to pull out of them.
“For most people racing is a hobby, but something has to give and it is usually things we enjoy.”
Geoff Baxter from Bingley, also West Yorkshire, said: “I’d go racing all the time before lockdown, twice a fortnight.
“Obviously I’ve missed going racing, but what could we do, it was down to the Government.
“Being here certainly beats watching it on TV, I’m sick of doing that. There’s nothing better than getting outside and going racing.”
Ben Bramley, from North Yorkshire, said: “It’s fantastic to hear a crowd again and there is a real buzz of anticipation, there was even a queue to get in, but people were tolerant.
“There were lots of stories about what people had been backing over the last few months, but I just think people are glad to be be back on course.
“There were a few cracks from the old boys about how they’ve never seen this place as busy, but the atmosphere is great. It’s probably the busiest it has been since some of the old Zetland Gold Cups.
“People are being very sensible, keeping distances, wearing masks inside – and hearing them cheering home the horses is fabulous.”
Clerk of the course Jonjo Sanderson said: “It’s strange, but it’s good and exciting. I think we’ll be close to 800 (in attendance). They are all pre-sales and when I got here this morning, we had about 70 left.
“It’s taking a little bit of reacclimatising to see people being here and walking round, but I think it’s fantastic and the weather is playing ball.
“Let’s hope this continues and we don’t go backwards in five weeks. It’s small steps. York will probably have 4,000 on Saturday, which proportionately will look about the same.
“We probably would expect the same sort of crowd for a Monday in May as we’ve got today in any case. The only difference is they’ve had to pay in advance whereas normally we’d only sell 10 per cent in advance and the rest would pay on the day depending on the weather.
“I think there is pent-up demand, which will probably wear off after two or three weeks, but then hopefully it will be steady away.
“It’s not normal and they are going to have to adapt to how things work, like going to a bar and going outside with a drink, but they can queue and collect rather than it being table service, as we can do that at stadiums, and obviously we try to encourage face masks as much as we can, but it’s not law so we can’t force that.
“Amy (Fair, general manager) has worked really hard to get it set up as we didn’t know for sure until last Monday when a document landed on the desk. There have been significant changes, but they’ve gone really well.”
PJ McDonald, president of the Professional Jockeys Association, partnered the second winner, Lasting Legacy, and said: “It takes a bit of getting used to, the parade ring feels a hell of a lot smaller now, but it’s nice.
“You can see everyone is enthusiastic to get everybody back, racing has done a great job to keep everyone safe and hopefully they get just rewards now with punters back through the gates.”
Bookmaker Richard Johnson, standing on his father Keith’s pitch, on the rails, said: “It’s been surprisingly good, I think people are trying to make the most of it.
“It’s a seaside track so we’re taking a lot of small bets, but we’ve been away so long I don’t mind. I’m just hoping the rain stays away.
“I must admit we’re busier than we’d normally be, but I suspect when we’re fully reopened we won’t get 800 here on a Monday, so we’ll make the most of it.”