Epsom is “exploring the feasibility and practicality” of a one-day Derby meeting behind closed doors.
Jockey Club Racecourses, the track’s owner, has submitted an application to Epsom and Ewell Borough Council concerning permission to hold the Derby and Oaks on the same day in either July or August, along with restricting access to the site.
A provisional date of July 4 has been put forward, but the application also asks for flexibility, with a Saturday in July or August mentioned as no date has yet been set for a resumption of racing after the coronavirus shutdown.
While the Downs are owned by Epsom, there are public footpaths and bridleways and the application asks for access to certain areas to be restricted for 24 hours in order to meet the requirements for a behind-closed-doors card.
Temporary fencing and barriers along with additional security would form an exclusion zone, with JCR also outlining its ongoing dialogue with local police. It is proposed in addition to the Derby and Oaks, five other races would be run.
The application is due to be discussed at a council meeting on Tuesday evening.
A spokesperson for Epsom said: “We are exploring the feasibility and practicality of staging the Investec Derby and Investec Oaks at the racecourse with no crowd present, given their importance to the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industries.
“This is part of the racing industry’s resumption planning, which will be guided fully by the Government, local authorities and delivery partners.”
David Gulland, Liberal Democrat councillor for Epsom and Ewell, thinks plenty of consideration needs to be given to the health issues surrounding the meeting.
He told BBC Radio Surrey: “Under normal circumstances, the whole racing event is fantastic news and good for the local economy. If it’s behind closed doors though, I’m not sure it will be the same occasion.
“Normally you get about 100,000 people coming down so it’s fantastic for the pubs and restaurants, but a closed event will not quite be the same thing.
“It (the Derby) is important and I’m really pleased the Jockey Club is trying to find an innovative way of doing it, but we need to think about the wider issues, obviously the health aspect.”
He also believes the plan would be workable, although communication with local residents would be key to gaining support.
He said: “The plans seem sensible on paper and if the Jockey Club does explain why it has to go ahead in this way, I’m sure the local residents will support if. It explains carefully why it has to be done that way, I’m sure it will get support, but it does need that open communication as to why it has to be done this way.
“The paper is quite broad, it explains that the racing has to happen to support the industry, but it doesn’t really go into detail about why that’s the case. I imagine it has to do with TV money or prize-money and the sponsorship, and that makes sense. If there’s a bit more transparency and, with more evidence as to why it has to happen in this manner, then I’m sure people will support it.
“What we don’t want is the appearance that it’s happening to suit a small sector of the community. Also, we don’t want to encourage people to gather in groups when it’s not yet healthy to do so.
“No one knows what the health situation will be in July or August and, even if it is fenced off, there’s a danger that people will be attracted up there. It’s a huge open area. We don’t want to encourage behaviour which might not be appropriate, even in July or August. We just don’t know yet.”