Boost for Northern Ireland as racegoers set for Down Royal return on June 18
The wait is almost over for racing fans on the island of Ireland as Down Royal chief executive Emma Meehan has confirmed that spectators will return to the track on June 18, day one of their two-day BoyleSports Ulster Derby meeting.
Irish owners will be permitted to attend meetings from next Monday onwards, but it looks like Down Royal's fixture a fortnight on Friday will be the first to welcome back paying customers, and Meehan is "extremely excited" about the prospect.
Not since Naas on the second Sunday of March in 2020 has a racing fixture on the island of Ireland had a crowd outside of owners and those working on racedays, but the relaxation of restrictions in Northern Ireland now allows 500 spectators at a sporting event.
Down Royal is set to become the first racecourse to avail of that loosening, with Downpatrick set to follow suit on July 13.
Downpatrick hosts a two-day meeting on June 12-13, but racecourse manager Richard Lyttle has confirmed that just owners will return for those two dates, with spectators coming back next month.
Lyttle said: "Owners will be back in Downpatrick on July 12 and 13. It will be great to have them back, and the first step closer to some normality for all of us. We also very much look forward to welcoming members of the public to our meeting on July 13."
Down Royal members and box holders will have first refusal for the track's June 18-19 fixture, but Meehan expects between 200 and 250 tickets to go on sale to the paying public.
Tickets are likely to go on sale next week, but those wishing to jump at the chance to go racing will have to fill out forms online under Covid-19 guidelines. Racegoers will have to supply contact details for track-and-trace purposes, and upload photo ID.
Meehan said: "Following the relaxation of government guidelines, we are delighted that our summer festival, set to take place on June 18 and 19, will see us able to open our gates to a limited number of spectators for the first time in 16 months in an outdoor capacity.
"It has been an extremely challenging year for our industry, but we have been working hard behind the scenes to continue our racing fixtures behind closed doors. We're delighted to be able to welcome back owners, members and racing fans as part of a phased return of crowds.
"As always, we are committed to providing the best possible experience for all visitors to Down Royal and can assure those attending both racedays that we have worked to develop and implement stringent measures to ensure everyone's health and safety."
Meehan is hopeful that Down Royal's biggest meeting of the year – the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Chase fixture on October 29-30 – will be staged in front of a full house.
She said: "It's extremely exciting to be welcoming back spectators next month and the layering process is a good idea. Hopefully, it will be full bells and whistles for our big two-day meeting at the end of October, although with the curveball of the Indian variant I suppose you can't really count on anything.
"All we can do is plan accordingly and we're really looking forward to seeing racegoers back here in a few weeks."
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