Racing was the first of Britain’s “elite” sports to resume after lockdown and there is still hope in Yorkshire that it will also be the first to welcome back at least a limited number of paying spectators. Two of the season’s biggest racing festivals in the north are scheduled for August and September, and rumours are circulating that at least a partial crowd could return for the Leger meeting at Doncaster in September and perhaps even in time for the Ebor Festival at York, which is due to open on 19 August.
Time is running out for the Ebor, though, with William Derby, York’s chief executive, suggesting on Tuesday that the track will need confirmation by the first week in August if it is to open its doors.
“I would have thought that we would need to know a couple of weeks out and be telling our customers who have pre-booked, so we’re looking at early August,” he said.
“We have annual badge holders, box holders and longstanding supporters that are very keen to come and see what looks like some fabulous racing shaping up. Last night’s news about Love [the Oaks winner] possibly taking on Enable [the dual Arc winner] in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks looks tremendous, and Kameko [the 2,000 Guineas winner] is possibly in the Juddmonte International alongside a number of others. It looks like it’s going to be the usual stellar cast of thoroughbreds, so naturally for our keenest supporters, there’s an eagerness to be in attendance if they can.
“We could turn around the work on the site and it wouldn’t take a huge amount of time operationally on the ground, but obviously people who have booked hotels or are holding tickets and badges, we need to be fair to them to give them time to adjust their plans if we have to continue to race behind closed doors.”
Racing is the country’s second-biggest spectator sport after football and York is one of the best-attended tracks in the country, with 320,000 tickets sold for its 18 race days last year. Ticket prices for the Ebor meeting currently being advertised on York’s website range from a limited number at £15 in the Clocktower enclosure in the middle of the track to £165 in the Melrose Club Lounge, with a County Stand badge available for £60, £8 off the usual price, as an “early-bird special”.
Yarmouth 12.00 Tanita 12.35 My Poem 1.10 Fast Start 1.40 One Small Step 2.10 Badri 2.40 Case Key 3.10 Dark Side Dream 3.40 Poets Dance
Catterick 12.15 Mokaman 12.45 Buniann (nap) 1.20 Pleasure Garden 1.50 Brazen Belle 2.20 Aroha 2.50 Victory Angel 3.20 Vitare 3.50 Deinonychus 4.20 Caribeno
Kempton 4.40 Sense Of Romance 5.10 Lordsbridge Boy 5.40 Wispering Angel 6.10 La Maquina (nb) 6.45 Quickthorn 7.15 Almighwar 7.45 Swinley Forest 8.15 Jeanette May 8.45 Cristal Pallas Cat
When it announced much-reduced prize funds for the Ebor meeting last week, York suggested that around 80% of its annual revenue comes from its attendance, via the ticket prices and also the race day revenue from food, drinks, betting and so on. While a limited crowd at the Ebor meeting would not plug the hole entirely, even the 5,000-strong attendance that is now permitted at racecourses in France could represent at least £200,000 in gate receipts alone.
“It was great to see crowds back on a racecourse [in France last weekend],” Derby said. “As most people in racing know, racecourses are not stadium settings so much as parkland settings, and that allowed for a good level of social distancing, albeit under reduced capacities and different protocols.
“Like many courses, we are looking at how social distancing could work on the racecourse. We think we could apply the rules and protocols to a racecourse setting and we’d be keen for that to be the case, and I know that other sports will be in a similar position.
“There are talks ongoing between elite sport and government and racing is part of that, and we are feeding into that group through the Racecourse Association. I think the Department of Culture, Media and Sport do understand the difference between a racecourse setting and an all-seater setting, and as I understand it, that’s been a positive discussion in the relationship going on.”
Wednesday’s best bets, by Greg Wood
The original best bet of the day is, irritatingly, a non-runner, so the mantle (such as it is) now passes to Maquina (6.10) at Kempton Park, who has drifted out to 25-1 in a place but was a course-and-distance winner off a mark of 77, 3lb lower than today’s, last spring.
George Baker’s gelding registered another win off 79 at Goodwood a couple of months later. His form tailed off after an excellent second at Newmarket’s July meeting last summer and he was absent from August until a return to action at Newmarket last month, where he looked as though the outing would bring him on. He is also re-united today with the excellent Nicola Currie, who was in the saddle for both of his wins last year.
Dark Side Dream (3.10) is alongside Delagate The Lady at the top of the market for the sprint handicap at Yarmouth and looks like the one to side with after a luckless run at Wolverhampton last time. He had nowhere to go on the home turn and still finished just a length behind the winner, and runs off his 3lb lower turf mark here.
Poets Dance (3.40) is also fairly priced in the five-furlong sprint at the end of the card, while Caribeno (4.20) looks like a textbook Sir Mark Prescott improver off 57 in the staying handicap at Catterick Bridge.