Coronavirus restrictions bar London racegoers from Kempton on Boxing Day
Any London-based racegoers planning a Christmas cracker at Kempton's Ladbrokes King George VI Chase meeting next week have had their hopes dashed after the UK government elevated the capital into Tier 3 of its coronavirus restrictions on Monday.
Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care, confirmed the news, which comes into force from 12.01am on Wednesday, to the House of Commons following a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases in London.
However, Kempton's site is classed as being in Surrey and therefore able to admit spectators living in Tier 1 or 2 regions for its showpiece fixture, which is set to be headlined by the mouthwatering clash between Britain's best jumper Cyrname and his Paul Nicholls-trained stablemate Clan Des Obeaux, who has won the winter highlight for the last two years.
The only danger for those who have purchased any of the now-sold-out tickets, which had a cap of 2,000, is if Surrey is moved into Tier 3 when the government reviews its measures on Wednesday – something officials on Monday could not wait for in London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.
Those parts of Essex include Chelmsford, which is due to host its final fixture of 2020 on Thursday, when the new directives will be in place, meaning a behind-closed-doors meeting.
Hancock, MP for Newmarket, said: "I know this is difficult news and plans will be disrupted, and for businesses affected it will be a significant blow, but this action is essential. Not just to keep people safe, but because we've seen early action can prevent more damaging longer-lasting problems later.
"These restrictions will come into force at midnight on Wednesday morning because when this virus moves quickly, we must move quickly too and take the actions that are not necessarily easy, but are effective.
"Thanks to the forces of science, help is on its way, but while we know now that day will come, this isn't over yet and while we employ the fruits of scientific endeavour to make the country safe, we must do what it takes to protect our loved ones and NHS now. I know these steps are hard, but we must not waver as we enter the final stretch, so when we look back at this time of crisis we can look back and say, 'We did our part'."
The government announced four weeks ago crowds could return to sporting events from the start of December, albeit in limited numbers and in Tier 1 and 2 areas of its coronavirus chart.
No tracks in England are in the Tier 1 sector, but fans were back on track for the first time since March at Ludlow, Lingfield, Kempton and Haydock on December 2.
Tickets for this month's Betfair Tingle Creek, which takes place at nearby sister circuit Sandown, sold out in 17 minutes, and those on offer at Kempton were quickly snapped up last week, although anyone living in recently upgraded Tier 3 locations will be refunded and their slot resold.
The King George is not the only festive treat at Kempton, which stages the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle – the next race for Unibet Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante – and the Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase a day later on December 27, which record-breaking jumper Altior is pencilled in for.
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