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Frustration at false headlines as Welsh authority retracts Doncaster Covid link

Doncaster: last three days of the St Leger meeting took place behind closed doors
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There was disappointment and frustration throughout racing on Thursday – a day after media reports mistakenly linked an outbreak of Covid-19 cases in South Wales to Doncaster's St Leger meeting last week.

The stories gathered pace when Wales health minister Vaughan Gething said a significant number of clusters in the Rhondda Cynon Taf region, which is set to go into a local lockdown, were linked to a group of people heading to Doncaster, which welcomed a crowd for the opening afternoon of the St Leger fixture but was forced to run the following three days behind closed doors due to coronavirus restrictions.

The news came as a shock to the Town Moor venue's officials, who insisted no tickets had been booked by any groups from South Wales.

Doncaster rejects claims test event was responsible for coronavirus outbreak

That was confirmed on Wednesday night by the BHA, which said in a statement: "The British Horseracing Authority has been told by Public Health Wales [PHW] that a coach party from South Wales – now part of a Covid lockdown area in the Rhondda Cynon Taf – did not visit Doncaster Racecourse as reported."

The Welsh government also sought to clarify the situation, posting on one of its Twitter feeds: "Regarding concerns that a coach party from South Wales attended Doncaster Racecourse over the weekend, we understand that though the original intention of the party was to travel to the Doncaster Racecourse, the party did not enter the racecourse as originally planned."

However, some media outlets on Thursday morning continued to suggest the Yorkshire course had, in part, been responsible for the outbreak.

Doncaster is owned by Arena Racing Company and Mark Spincer, managing director of the group's racing division, said: "It showed all our track-and-trace protocols on the Wednesday [of the meeting] worked because we were able to check our data for the whole of the week and couldn't see any postcodes with tickets – bar one annual member, who drove – while we haven't had any contact from the NHS.

"I think it's disappointing racing has been linked to the South Wales outbreak when racing wasn't involved in any way at all. From a positive point of view, it's proved our track-and-trace system has worked – they weren't with us. It proved the pilot on Wednesday was successful as it backed up the belief they weren't there with actual data."

Strict protocols were in place for crowds at Doncaster

Spincer, who first became aware of the situation when a colleague forwarded an online story, added: "It's unfortunate the headlines were as they were. They hadn't purchased tickets in the first place, so how do you link a day out with the racecourse?

"It's a shame and doesn't do our sport any good. There's frustration that what was a very successful trial delivered against the criteria set out by the council and government hasn't come across like that in the way it was reported yesterday afternoon, although it changed later and the BHA did a brilliant job in putting out the correction."

The Racecourse Association, is a key player in getting spectators back on tracks, and its chief executive David Armstrong echoed Spincer's feelings.

"We were highly dismissive of the article in the first place, so the fact we were able to get that clarified was very helpful," he said. 

"Sometimes these things happen and you need to correct them when they do, but I wouldn't go as far to say we're angry. There's a degree of frustration when people jump to conclusions, which may or may not be correct. We just needed to get it sorted out and move on.

"The factual position is now clear and there will be instances where people naturally jump to conclusions or blame something, but I don't feel any particular [wider] concern. Our protocols are rock solid and we're very tight on what we're doing."

Trials for the return of racegoers are scheduled for Warwick and Newmarket next week and Armstrong added: "This bunch of people didn't come to the racecourse and it's got nothing to do with racing – it's nothing to do with our protocols because the people weren't even on the course. We'll just carry on operating to the highest standards."

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They hadn't purchased tickets in the first place, so how do you link a day out with the racecourse? It's a shame and doesn't do our sport any good
E.W. Terms