It appears as though we are one step closer to the resolution that everybody is hoping for: race fans allowed back on the course at meetings up and down the land.
Maybe we’re on the verge of a major breakthrough on that front, after it was confirmed that the St Leger meeting at Doncaster has been selected as the latest guinea pig in the government’s pilot scheme to get sports fans back at live events.
Unlike the doomed trial at Glorious Goodwood, tickets will be on sale to members of the public too – more than 20,000 will be permitted to attend across the festival’s four days.
If successful, it could be a momentous occasion for racing’s attempts to return to normal following the coronavirus pandemic. With revenue made on course, both through ticket sales and betting takings, more cash can be ploughed back into the Levy fund – eventually, that will be reflected in an increase in prize money, which has become a major hot potato dogging the sport.
David Armstrong, the chief executive of the Racecourse Association, thanked the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for ‘entrusting the sport with this responsibility’, and said:
“We are pleased to receive confirmation of our pilot events to welcome back crowds to racecourses.
“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.”
It’s Now or Never to Preserve British Racing’s Future
These are dark, dark times for British racing.
The action has been taking place behind closed doors since June as part of the Covid-19 response, and that followed a three-month blackout that came after the Cheltenham Festival.
Prize money has hit the floor, and that has led to a number of prominent owners – including three-time Grand National winner Trevor Hemmings – scaling back their operations by selling horses. He was joined this week by Tom Morley, who has sold 15 of his yard in the past fortnight. Morley has lost £350,000 in the first half of 2020, ad has called the current situation in racing ‘totally unsustainable’.
The four flat Classics have been run without a crowd present, and while the quality of the racing is not in question the lack of atmosphere on race day is sorely felt – as is the absence of meaningful prize money.