Epsom fenced off once more for first meeting since 'unique' July Derby
Staging the Derby and the Oaks on a single day on a deserted Epsom Downs was arguably the starkest example of just how much Covid-19 bent the sport of horseracing to its will in 2020.
The pandemic is not gone yet but racing returns to Epsom on Tuesday for the first time since Love and Serpentine etched their names on the Classic roll of honour.
With the sport still forced to continue behind closed doors until at least May 17 and thereafter with a limited attendance, the Jockey Club have once again sought the permission of the Epsom Downs Conservators to put a security ring around what is a very public site.
"We're very much looking forward to it," said long-serving clerk of the course Andrew Cooper. "We all agreed it was a sensible decision, given the additional complications of racing behind closed doors [on this site], to draw stumps after the unique Derby meeting in July last year, always with the intention, regulations permitting, of coming back for a full season in 2021.
"We have fenced the entire perimeter of the racecourse along the same lines as for the Derby last year, and we've had the necessary approvals to close the footpaths that go across the Downs."
While limited crowds will be admitted to racecourses in step three of the UK government's roadmap from as soon as mid-May, the vast capacity for people to fill up the Epsom infield means that the fences will also be required for the Cazoo Oaks and Derby on June 4 and 5.
"We will be operating on that sort of basis as well for the Derby meeting and thereafter. We don't race until early July which, fingers crossed, takes us beyond the final roadmap stage on June 21.
"We'll address how we set up for those meetings further down the line but we’ve got the necessary approvals to enclose the Downs and close off the footpaths for these first three fixtures of the season."
'The driest April we've known'
Cooper put down five millimetres of water last Thursday and half that amount on Sunday after a challenging month leading up to Epsom's reopening.
"More of a factor is what sort of spring you have rather than not racing since last July," said Cooper. "In terms of grass growth we've had an unbelievable dry, cold period. I've kept records here for about 20 years and this is shaping up to be the driest April we've known.
"We had a bit of snow a week ago and that's the only moisture we've seen. There has been no rain here since the weekend before Cheltenham, while we're still getting frosts."
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