After several false starts and six months after it resumed behind closed doors, racing will lead the way in welcoming limited crowds back to sporting events on Wednesday as Haydock, Lingfield, Ludlow and Kempton all open their doors to a maximum of 2,000 spectators. All four courses expect to number their actual attendance in three figures rather than four but the return of paying customers will still be seen as a vital step for the sport and one that has not arrived a moment too soon.
“We’re expecting just under 1,000 at Haydock tomorrow and it should be a really enjoyable afternoon,” Dickon White, the north west regional director for Jockey Club Racecourses, said on Tuesday. “Spectators are the lifeblood of our business and we need them to drive atmosphere and revenue on our tracks. It’s a great privilege for Haydock but also for the whole of British racing to be leading the way.”
By agreement with St Helens council, no alcohol will be served at Haydock, but in other respects the raceday experience will be as close to normal as social distancing protocols permit.
“We’ve adapted a lot of what was already in place for racing behind closed doors,” White said, “but with additional sanitiser machines, additional cleaning and new signage for one-way systems and so on.
“We won’t have any bars open, but there will be coffee and tea and various catering outlets available. Spectators will obviously have a fantastic view of the racing itself, and there will be good access to the parade ring and winner’s enclosure. It’s as near as you can get with all the protocols in place.”
White is also responsible for Aintree, where a sell-out crowd of 2,000 fans will watch horses race over the Grand National fences on Saturday, while Sandown, which hosts the Grade One Tingle Creek Chase the same afternoon, sold out in 16 minutes.
The lucky few with a ticket can look forward to an outstanding renewal of the big race, with Altior, a dual winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, expected to take on last year’s winner of the two-mile championship, Politologue.
“Altior likes a crowd,” Nicky Henderson, his trainer, said. “He knows what they are there for – otherwise he’d think it was just a racecourse gallop. He enjoys atmospheres and he’s a horse who thinks he’s quite smart, so if there are any admirers there it will be great.”
Cheltenham will need to find a new sponsor for its most prestigious race after the cider-maker Magners said that it will not take up an option to back the Gold Cup in 2022 after its initial three-year contract ends next March. Magners joins the Racing Post and RSA as ex-sponsors at the Festival after those businesses dropped their backing for the Arkle Trophy and RSA Chase respectively two months ago.