The Pertemps St Leger Festival at Doncaster is one of eight meetings that will be staged with crowds as part of stage five of the UK government's plan to return spectators to elite sport, the Racecourse Association announced on Wednesday. Doncaster's four-day Classic meeting from Sept. 9-12, a Sept. 21 Warwick fixture, and Newmarket's Cambridgeshire Meeting from Sept. 24-26 have all been greenlit to allow racegoers in limited fashion. In Doncaster's case, a maximum of 3,640 spectators will be allowed on the first day, increasing to 6,202 for the final three days. Each course submitted a detailed risk assessment and operating plan to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, with these courses selected to provide “a detailed case study for other racecourse to follow.” These experimental events with spectators will also test the operating protocols set out by the Sports Ground Safety Authority.
Racing halted in mid-March and resumed on June 1 without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Owners were finally allowed back to UK racecourses since July 4, Derby Day at Epsom Downs. On-course bookmakers were also allowed back last week. There was an aborted attempt to allow spectators back at the Qatar Goodwood Festival.
David Armstrong, Chief Executive of the RCA, commented, “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.”
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.”
Wales and Scotland will continue to race without spectators. The British Horseracing Authority and the Arena Racing Company are discussing the issue of spectators with the Welsh government and Scottish racing is also in talks with the Scottish government on the same matter.