Racegoers set to return at St Leger Festival as part of crowd pilot events

Doncaster’s showpiece fixture to join Warwick and Newmarket in welcoming crowds.

  • Wednesday 26 August
  • News
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Eight meetings, kicking off with Doncaster’s Pertemps St Leger Festival, are set to be staged with crowds next month as part of the Government’s pilot scheme to return spectators to elite sport.

The St Leger meeting, which runs from September 9-12, Warwick on September 21 and Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire Meeting from September 24-26 will all permit racegoers, with Doncaster planning for a maximum of 3,640 general admissions on the Wednesday, rising to 6,202 on the final three days of the fixture.

The pilot events in England are designed to test stage five of the Government’s return to elite sport plan, as well as operating protocols set out by the Sports Ground Safety Authority.

Each track had to submit a detailed risk assessment and operating plan to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and the fixtures have been selected to provide “a detailed case study for other racecourses to follow”, considering factors “such as size and ownership of venue, profile of fixture, logistics of essential raceday services such as catering and betting and geography within Britain”.

Racing has taken place behind closed doors since the resumption of the sport on June 1, although owners have been permitted back on track since Derby day at Epsom on July 4, and last week a small number of on-course bookmakers also returned.

A previous plan to trial a crowd during Glorious Goodwood had to be shelved when Government advice was updated following concern about the possibility of a new spike in Covid-19 cases.

However, David Armstrong, chief executive of the Racecourse Association, believes valuable lessons were learned from that process, even if the event did not actually happen.

He said: “We are pleased to receive confirmation of our pilot events to welcome back crowds to racecourses and once again thank DCMS for entrusting the sport with this responsibility.

“Racecourses have been working for some time to this end and we are confident the events selected will provide strong case studies which will be of use to all.

“The disappointment of postponing our last confirmed pilot at Goodwood was felt across the sport, but the learnings and behind-the-scenes work have been of great value to others. Racing is ready to proceed in a safe manner and we are looking forward to once again welcoming crowds back to the racecourse.”

Tickets for Doncaster will go on sale on Friday, with the track’s owners Arena Racing Company underlining a new code of conduct will be in place for all attendees along with a number of additional facilities to allow racegoers to maintain social distancing, personal hygiene and other measures.

Mark Spincer, managing director of ARC’s racing division, said: “We are delighted that the Government and local authorities have taken the decision to allow us to pilot the return of a crowd at Doncaster Racecourse.

“We were very proud to host the return of racing behind closed doors at Newcastle at the beginning of June and are grateful to the Government for showing confidence in us to host this event.

“As with all sport and other live events, welcoming a crowd is absolutely fundamental to our business as well as being the heart and soul of the spectacle. The team at Doncaster have worked incredibly hard on making sure that we have all of the steps in place to welcome a limited number of spectators in a safe and efficient manner and we are really looking forward to welcoming people back on site to enjoy four excellent days of racing.

“The event is, of course, a pilot so the experience may be different than customers may have got used to in previous years, but we are putting everything in to making sure that our customers can have an enjoyable afternoon’s racing as well as offering valuable feedback to the process of allowing crowds back to sporting events more generally.

“The impact of the national lockdown has been immense on the racing industry, as it has been to all sports and live events businesses. Whilst we have been delighted to get back to work behind closed doors, our industry and many others rely massively on crowds, so to get this pilot event is a huge step in the right direction for all of us.”

The pilot events only relate to English tracks, with Scottish Racing leading discussions with Scottish Government, while a delegation led by the British Horseracing Authority and ARC has led similar discussions with the Welsh Government for racecourses in Wales.

Amy Starkey, regional director for the east region of Jockey Cub Racecourses, said: “We are really pleased to be staging a pilot event across the three days of the Cambridgeshire Meeting at the home of horse racing. It is an important step to welcoming back crowds back to racing on a full-time basis again as soon as it is appropriate to do so on this long road to recovery for the industry.

“We were always hopeful of staging a pilot event and we have been working closely with the Government and the RCA and our racecourse colleagues.

“We have a safety advisory group meeting on Thursday to finalise plans regarding capacity numbers and we will know a figure we can allow back in then.

“The financial hit has devastated all racecourses and at Newmarket we have not been able to welcome the 375,000 people we usually do each year, the crowds create the atmosphere we have been missing.

“It has been great to be able to continue racing behind closed doors and welcome owners back, which was an important step forwards, but racedays are about the experience and we have missed the crowds that make them.”

Warwick will welcome 1,250 spectators on course. This will include provision for 200 owners and trainers, 186 annual members spaces and 864 general admissions and hospitality bookers.

A spokesperson for Jockey Club Racecourses said: “We’re really pleased to be staging two pilot events with spectators next month. It’s an important step towards welcoming spectators back to racing events as soon as it’s appropriate to do so, and on this long road to recovery we’re on as an industry.”

Racegoers set to return at St Leger Festival as part of crowd pilot events
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