Down Royal set for biggest crowd since 2019 as tickets sell out for Grade 1 card
Down Royal is gearing up to welcome back its biggest crowd in two years next weekend, with general admission for a bumper Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Chase day already sold out.
Tuesday's relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions in the Republic of Ireland didn't impact the Northern Ireland course's plans for the popular two-day meeting, but a crowd of roughly 4,500 is expected to see the possible return of Minella Indo on Saturday week.
Only spectators who are fully vaccinated, can provide a negative lateral flow test or prove immunity from contracting the virus are permitted to attend.
Down Royal chief executive Emma Meehan said: "We're looking at close to pre-Covid levels, with the difference being that we're not taking walk-ups on the day.
"We want to have a level of controllability over the crowd and that comes with knowing exactly how many people are coming, as well as wanting to make sure everyone has a great time.
She added: "Such is the demand, our gross sales have superseded 2019 levels ahead of the meeting, so we're in a very good position. We had 5,800 here on the Saturday in 2019, and of those 1,600 came through the gate on the day without prior warning. At the moment we're looking at 4,500 [for Saturday of next week].
"I feel we have got this to a level where it will feel very festival-esque, while still being mindful and responsible. We've pushed hard to get here and want to continue on this trajectory.
"We're so excited to welcome this level of people back after operating on our own for the most part of 18 months."
South of the border, Fairyhouse's popular winter festival appears to be the first major meeting to benefit from the easing of restrictions set to come into play this Friday, with limits on crowd sizes poised to be lifted.
Hospitality options are already close to being fully sold out for the two-day meeting on November 27 and 28, which features three Grade 1 events.
Fairyhouse general manager Peter Roe is expecting the biggest crowd at the Meath venue since 6,000 racegoers saw Honeysuckle land the first of her two Hatton's Grace Hurdles in December 2019.
"The announcement comes as great news in terms of welcoming back maximum hospitality because there was obviously a chance that things could have been worse given the rise in Covid-19 cases," said Roe.
"Our hospitality is nearly sold out. The Bobbyjo restaurant is booked out on the Sunday and I expect the Saturday to be full over the next few days. Bookings have been strong."
It remains unclear exactly how the restrictions will impact all racecourse elements – such as whether jockeys will be able to return to weighing rooms – but only spectators with proof of vaccination status will be allowed to use indoor facilities at tracks.
Roe said: "We'll need outdoor catering. It's fine during the summer but more tricky in the winter. Until we see the fine print we won't make final decisions, but we'll probably be looking at more marquees."
He added: "It will be an outdoor event and indoor seating options are going to be limited to those with Covid passes, so racegoers should prepare for the day with that in mind."
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