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Carlisle, Redcar and Leicester racegoers revel in getting back on track

Mon 17 May 2021
 This was the queue to get in at Redcar (Focusonracing)
This was the queue to get in at Redcar (Focusonracing)

Racegoers were delighted to be back at Carlisle for the first time this year on a beautiful afternoon in Cumbria on Monday.

The British Horseracing Authority last week gave the green light for crowds to return to racecourses following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that step three of the road map out of lockdown would go ahead.

A maximum crowd of 4,000 or 50 per cent capacity, whichever number is lower, will be allowed on track in England – and a four-figure attendance soaked up the atmosphere as Carlisle staged its first Flat fixture since September 2019.

Among the first paying customers through the gates were Carlisle native Craig Hamilton, his partner Louise Williams and their five-month old baby Mikey – who was well dressed for his very first visit to the races.

“It’s fantastic to be back. It’s nice to get back to some sort of normality and to get dressed up and do something,” said Hamilton.

“I’m from Carlisle originally, but we live in Workington. This is Louise’s surprise birthday present. I bought the tickets when they first came out and surprised her this morning.

“We were just saying, we don’t think we’ve been racing since August/September 2019, so it’s almost two years and we probably go six or seven times a year usually.”

Williams added: “This is Mikey’s first day at the races. Hopefully he’s a lucky charm!”

Lloyd Johnson travelled from Swindon for the meeting, and said: “It’s nice to be back. It’s been missed.

“Personally I think it’s important for the public to get back and get back on our feet again. I like horse racing and like a bet, of course – I like to come here and win!

“It’s nice to get out and meet people. Let’s get things back together again.”

Carlisle’s general manager Molly Dingwall was thrilled to see members of the public back enjoying a day at the races.

She said: “We’ve got just over 1,000 (paying customers) today. We’ve had a really great uptake and a lot of the local community have come to support us, which is absolutely fantastic.

“We’re so thrilled this day has arrived. When I found out last week that we were going to be able to lessen the green zone and have it a bit more open and have owners back in the parade ring, I was delighted.

“We were very lucky to have behind closed doors racing to keep the sport going, but there’s nothing like having a crowd – it just changes the atmosphere of the day.

“We’ve been so excited to have people back here enjoying their day. We are in the entertainment business at the end of the day and we love seeing people have fun and seeing them being able to see their friends and their racing family, who they haven’t seen for so long.

“To be the first racecourse to be able to do that this year is a real treat and we’re beyond thrilled.”

Carlisle was last able to welcome a small crowd to the track for the pre-Christmas raceday in December.

 Things you love to see: Racegoers return at Redcar (Focusonracing)
Things you love to see: Racegoers return at Redcar (Focusonracing)

Dingwall is hoping for a further easing of restrictions when step four of the route out of lockdown is due to kick in on June 21 – just two days before the track’s Carlisle Bell and Cumberland Plate fixture.

She added: “The Bell and Plate day is on June 23 this year and it looks like the 21st could be a really big day for allowing people back in almost a normal capacity.

“It would be absolutely incredible for our Bell and Plate day. We always get a really good crowd that day with really knowledgeable racegoers – it’s a real family day.

“I know there is talk about the date potentially being pushed back, but from our point of view, it’s about being positive, following the guidelines and doing everything we can to ensure we stay as safe as possible and keep our racegoers and participants safe.”

Dual champion jockey Paul Hanagan said: “It’s so good to see the crowds back – this is what it’s all about. There’s just that extra bit of atmosphere and it does make a difference.

“It’s fantastic to see. I think there were a few of the two-year-olds in the first race thinking ‘what is going on here?’, as they’ve never seen so many people. It’s great to have everyone back.”

Samuel Black was one of 10 bookmakers allowed to take pitches on track.

He said: “We’ve been on track for owners at Kelso and Musselburgh, but it’s obviously been very quiet. It’s more of a service for them and getting us out of the house. From a business point of view, it’s been a waste of time.

“The last time we were racing with a full crowd was at Uttoxeter on Midlands Grand National day last year – the day after the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. We did go to Haydock twice with a small crowd at the end of last year, similar to this today.

“Business today is workable. For a midweek fixture, it’s as good as could be expected really.

“It’s nice to be out and see the sun again – we’ve been pale for a year!

“We have a good pitch at Glorious Goodwood and we just hope we’re back to something like normal by then.”

Redcar regulars return

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.”

Leicester celebrations roll on

 Punters study the runners at Leicester, where there was evening racing (Focusonracing)
Punters study the runners at Leicester, where there was evening racing (Focusonracing)

Leicester welcomed racegoers with open arms for their evening meeting, with the city still in celebration mode after the football club won the FA Cup for the first time on Saturday.

The Oadby track was much more sedate than the atmosphere at Wembley, where an estimated 6,000 Leicester fans saw their club defeat Chelsea.

There was only about a tenth of that number at the racecourse – but it was still significant, marking as it did the latest step towards normality.

Clerk of the course Jimmy Stevenson said: “It’s great to have racegoers back. You can see the difference. We’ve been so used to the other experience with Covid, it’s been painful.

“I watched the cup final on Saturday and it was the same. Unfortunately, there’s no one from Leicester City here tonight as they’re playing Chelsea again on Tuesday.

“In total, the attendance with everyone will be about 600 to 700. We’re just taking it steady and getting everything in place and back in the groove.

“It’s been difficult because we’re led by Government guidelines and they’re changing all the time.”

Jockey Tom Marquand was delighted to see the crowds back in the UK after being used to them on his recent stint in Australia.

“I got used to the crowds in Australia, then I came back to no crowds again, which was bizarre, so this feels more normal than not having crowds,” he said.

“It’s great to have everyone back. It just lifts the racecourse up a bit.”

He picked up a winning spare ride on Divine Magic (9-2) in the Organ Donation – Start The Conversation Fillies’ Stakes. Marco Ghiani gave up the mount as his partner was expecting a baby.

“I’m sure he won’t be too bothered about missing out on a winner, but it’s a nice spare to pick up and she relished that bit of dig in the ground,” said Marquand.

He completed a double on the William Haggas-trained Chalk Stream (7-1), owned by the Queen, in the Rainbows Hospice For Children And Young People Handicap.

It was a quiet night for the 13 bookmakers on course, despite a gamble being landed in style by newcomer Dora Penny in the opening Bodie Hodges Foundation Restricted Novice Stakes.

On-course Bookmaker Michael Cannon was just delighted to be back working.

“It’s nice and quiet and nice to be out,” he said. “I personally thought there would be more people here because it’s the first day everyone is allowed out. I can understand some people may be taking a cautious view, but for those who are out business is acceptable. It’s a small step on the way.”

Backed down from 13-2 to 11-4 favourite, the David Evans-trained juvenile was a smooth winner by two and three-quarter lengths from Hattie C under George Downing.

It was the second gamble landed by the Evans stable in recent days after Choux bolted up at Thirsk from much bigger odds.

Downing said: “This filly is very nice. David said to me she goes well enough at home and although she was a little bit green early on she knew her task when let down. Mr Evans knows the time of day.

“Delighted to see crowds back. It’s what the sport needed. It’s great, it brings lot more enthusiasm to racing. It’s very positive.”

Sadly, there was no joy for Lee and Jo Burns, parents of apprentice jockey Harry Burns, who made the two-hour journey from Harlow in Essex.

Unfortunately, his mount in the opener, Teasyweasy, was withdrawn after unseating him on the way out to the track and running loose.

“This is the first time we’ve seen him ride since the pandemic. We last saw him on the track about two years ago,” said his father.

“He took a little time off, but he’s back doing it again since March. He’s based with Jo Parr in Newmarket.

“We’re excited about seeing him ride again.”

Bashosh (2-1) looked an exciting prospect when making an impressive debut in the British Stallion Studs EBF Maiden Stakes.

The Dubawi colt, a full-brother to Nezwah, winner of the Group One Pretty Polly Stakes, shot clear of Thaler in the final furlong to score by four lengths. The first two drew 16 lengths ahead of Emanate in third.

His rider Jack Mitchell said: “He’s just taken a bit of hand to come to hand. He’s similar to his sister in that he’s not run until he was three.

“He’s got the job done really nicely. I liked the way he went through the race. He was green, but he was very professional at the end.

“I think he will only I improve by going up in trip. The run will make is sharper. He’s very exciting.”

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