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

Wed 26 Aug 2020

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, although the exact numbers involved have yet to be announced.

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”.

Racegoers have been unable to attend race meetings since March
Racegoers have been unable to attend race meetings since March

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.he 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 Arena Racing Company has led similar discussions with the Welsh Government for racecourses in Wales.

“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.

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