On-course bookies who have been unable to work since racing resumed behind closed doors in June received some welcome news on Tuesday when Arena Racing Company and Jockey Club Racecourses, which operates 31 tracks, said that it will waive fees for bookies standing at any meeting where spectators are permitted from 2 December until at least the end of 2020.
The racing industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, initially with a two-and-a-half-month suspension from mid-March and subsequently with the loss of six months of revenue from spectators. No group has suffered more than the on-course bookies, however, with all but a handful having been unable to work at all since mid-March.
It will be a long road back for many, not least with attendances at racecourses likely to be restricted for several months to come, but the decision to waive daily fees will at least reduce their overheads and start to revive the betting ring.
“This will be hugely appreciated at what is hopefully nearly the end of the worst year ever for on-course bookmakers,” Ben Johnson, a leading ring bookie, said on Tuesday. “We are potentially talking about £80 to £120 savings for a day’s racing which will make a big difference to struggling firms. Every step now is one closer to normality.”
Mark Spincer, managing director of Arc’s racing division, said its move was part of the “process of making sure that racing fans and owners can enjoy the experience of coming racing again as soon as possible”. He added: “Equally, we will look at what we can do from January 2021 onwards to work with and support our colleagues in the betting ring.”
Racecourse executives spent Tuesday working through some of the detail of the government’s unexpected announcement on Monday that limited crowds will be allowed to return to sporting events from 2 December, and planning for every eventuality when the new tier system for England is announced on Thursday.
Racecourses in a tier 1 area will be allowed to admit up to 4,000 spectators or half their capacity, whichever is lower, from next Wednesday, while those located in tier 2 will be allowed 2,000 or half their capacity, again whichever is lower.
Racing is scheduled for Haydock Park, Ludlow, Kempton Park and Lingfield Park next Wednesday, while Market Rasen, Wincanton, Leicester and Chelmsford City have meetings the following day. Of those tracks, only Wincanton, Chelmsford City and Lingfield are in local authority areas which recorded fewer than 150 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people from 12 to 19 November. Sandown Park, which will stage the Grade One Tingle Creek Chase on 5 December, is also in an area with relatively few cases.
The potential return of at least 2,000 spectators at many tracks is a huge boost to the racing industry, alongside confirmation on Monday that betting shops in England can also re-open from next Wednesday, albeit with added restrictions in tier 3 areas including a ban on showing live events and the removal of chairs to stop punters lingering.
Greg Wood’s Wednesday tips
12.15 Flat White
1.20 Geordie B
1.50 Soaring Glory
2.25 Ballyvic Boru
3.00 Fashion Nova
3.30 Chosen Port
12.00 Emerald Fox
2.00 Bedford Flyer
2.35 Alto Volante
3.10 Sea Crossing
12.05 Bumpy Johnson
12.40 Fancy Foundations
1.10 Brave Jaq
1.40 Princess Midnight (nb)
2.15 Young Buck
3.20 Cuban Pete
3.50 War Call
4.00 Kath’s Toyboy
6.05 Don’t Look Back
6.35 I’m Available (nap)
7.10 World Titl
A time when racegoers can turn up and pay at the gate, however, is still many weeks, and probably months, away. While nothing can be confirmed as yet, tickets for all meetings seem certain to be advance bookings only, with checks on postcodes also likely to deter travel to meetings from tier 3 areas.
The “green zone” arrangement which currently separates participants such as trainers and jockeys from owners attending meetings is also likely to remain in place for some time yet, while individual local authorities could also raise objections to planned crowd sizes, or impose restrictions of their own.
Doncaster’s pilot scheme for the return of racegoers at its St Leger meeting in September was abandoned after a single afternoon at the insistence of the city’s director of public health, with the Covid-19 infection rate in the local area standing at 10.6 new weekly cases per 100,000 people.