Racecourses are ready to welcome spectators back on track, albeit with limited numbers, on Wednesday.
Hundreds of punters will be allowed through the turnstiles at Haydock, Kempton, Lingfield and Ludlow for the first time since the end of March – barring two pilot events at Doncaster and Warwick in September – after the Government announced limited crowds would be permitted under the post-lockdown restrictions.
Outdoor venues in Tier 1 and 2 areas are allowed to admit spectators after the end of the national lockdown in England on Wednesday, with up to 4,000 spectators or 50 per cent capacity limits – whichever is lowest – in place in Tier 1, dropping to 2,000, or 50 per cent capacity, in Tier 2. No crowds are permitted in Tier 3 areas.
Ludlow, Lingfield, Haydock and Kempton all fall under Tier 2 restrictions and can get racing on the way back to some kind of normality.
Haydock and Kempton come under the Jockey Club Racecourses banner.
They have made the maximum number of tickets available between annual members, owners and general admission.
Nevin Truesdale, group chief executive of the Jockey Club, said: “Aside from our successful pilot race day at Warwick, it’s been more than eight months since we’ve been able to welcome spectators on course – and racing fans have been incredibly patient in that time.
“Since the restricted number of tickets went on sale for our race days in Tier 2 areas of the country, we’ve seen a really positive response, including our general admission allocations selling out for this weekend’s feature race days at Sandown Park and Aintree.
“Last week’s Government announcement that a limited number of spectators will be allowed to return is a great first step on the road to recovery for sport in general.
“But there is no magic switch you flick to ensure your venues are instantly ready, and I’m very proud of all our teams around the country who have been working tirelessly to ensure that racing fans can purchase tickets as smoothly as possible and will then have a safe and enjoyable day out.”
Ludlow are limiting their numbers well below the 2,000 mark at about 650 as they look to find their feet before their Christmas meeting on December 16.
General manager and clerk of the course Simon Sherwood said: “The phones have been very busy. We’ll probably be up to our maximum allocation as far as numbers are concerned.
“Hopefully we’ll be around the 650 mark, plus essential workers.
“It’ll be good to have people back on the race track. We’ve had to change our zones a little bit.
“It will be nice to have the owners back properly – because they have been restricted up until now – and members who, likewise, have been sitting on the sidelines for a long time. They are obviously our most important people.
“We are very much limiting our numbers, because it is a step in a new direction and we’re using it as a stepping stone to hopefully opening up a bit more for our December meeting.”
Lingfield is preparing for a few hundred patrons as it too looks to future meetings over jumps and on the all-weather.
Mark Spincer, Arena Racing Company’s managing director, said: “We’ll get a few hundred people. We’ll probably be a little busier than would be expected for a normal midweek all-weather fixture.
“We’re not doing any hospitality, only for owners – so we haven’t put any corporate on which would normally be a reasonably good corporate day there – but we decided that before Christmas we’re just going to focus on the owners and the general admissions area.
“We’ll learn a lot tomorrow, as we have done all along. We’re ready – we’ve got processes and procedures in place. The site is ready.
“We’ve got a lot of fixtures there in the month of December – that’s another factor.
“The team have worked so hard. They were one of the first sites to come back behind closed doors. Any last minute changes and tweaks that get thrown at us, we’ll be ready to deal with accordingly.”
Trainers have paid tribute to the British Horseracing Authority and other parties who have ensured racing has had a fair crack of the whip.
Nicky Henderson, who has runners at Haydock and Ludlow, said: “I think the first thing to say is how well the BHA have done to get us this far. To be the first to have crowds attend a sporting event is a great achievement, and something we’re all looking forward to.
“It has been slightly soulless, but it has been fantastic that racing kept going at all, even if it has been under weird circumstances.
“Yes, it’s been soulless – we’ve been quite a lot recently, and it’s been good, but a bit lonely. I think there were 42 people at Cheltenham the other week, but they did it really well and everything has gone well. It will just be nice to see a few different faces – you miss seeing people.”
David Pipe, who has just the one runner at Lingfield, said: “It’s fantastic for the sport. The sport has worked very hard with all the different parties for once working together – and look what we’ve done.
“We had to put it towards the Government, but we’ve done a fantastic job. Everyone has worked extremely hard – and everyone should be praised a lot for it.”
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