'It's so exciting to be back' - thoughts from racegoers and our team on track
Wednesday marks the first time since March, apart from two pilot events, that crowds can return to racetracks in England, and there will be limited numbers in attendance for the four meetings at Haydock, Kempton, Lingfield and Ludlow.
They are among 35 courses in Tier 2 areas of England allowed to have up to 2,000 spectators at meetings after lockdown measures were eased at midnight.
Hopes those numbers may swell in the coming months grew on Wednesday morning following the news that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 has been approved for use in the UK, with mass immunisation set to begin next week.
Here are the thoughts of racegoers from three of our team on track during the Wednesday afternoon meetings.
Lingfield: thrilled to be back
It has been a long wait for the return of spectators and one racegoer at Lingfield was so eager to get back to his local track that he made it his first port of call following knee surgery.
Peter McKey, who has spent the last four weeks indoors recovering, and his son Jason are regulars at the track, as well as others in the area, and were excited to find some winners.
Speaking over the barrier that divides owners and fans from participants and press, Jason McKey said: "It's so exciting. You see sport on TV and there's been no atmosphere. There's only a few hundred expected today but it is better than nobody. This is hopefully just the start."
Up to 500 spectators and owners are expected in the amber zone, which has access to the racecourse and course bookmakers, divided from the rest of the track.
An all-weather meeting at Lingfield would never normally attract huge crowds but there is still a sense of excitement among those who decided to attend. For them, this is a partial return to normality, and for the organisers, an important first step before tackling bigger meetings.
Haydock: 'It's going to be a bit different'
The wet weather did not put off the first paying customers entering Haydock since February, with racegoers arriving two hours before the first race.
A crowd "in the late hundreds" was expected for the seven-race meeting starting at 12.10 at a track where a designated area of the site continues to operate as an NHS Covid-19 testing facility.
Annual member Peter Barrow, from St Helens, was the first through the gates and was delighted to be back on course.
"It feels good and I'm glad to get out, apart from the weather," said Barrow, 79. "I enjoy my racing and meeting up with friends and have been an annual member here since 1999. We normally sit in the same section and I'm going to check whether we can. It's going to be a bit different."
Haydock welcomed general admissions, annual members and hospitality for the first time since the Grand National Trial fixture on February 15, with around 70 owners also due to be in attendance.
Dickon White, north-west director for Jockey Club Racecourses, said: "It's a great privilege to be hosting racing today. It's a really important day, not just for us and the Jockey Club, but also the racing industry. This is the first stage back to normality and you can already sense the atmosphere building around the course."
Ludlow: small steps
At Ludlow around 250 paying racegoers are expected, and clerk of the course Simon Sherwood said: "We're really looking forward to having racegoers back, the one thing racecourses have lacked is an atmosphere. We've missed it and it's been sterile. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction."
A bigger crowd is hoped for the track's popular mid-December meeting in two weeks, as Sherwood added: "For us, as an individual racecourse, some may think this is a financial remedy but the answer to that is no.
"It's a step in the right direction. We're limiting numbers for this meeting and then we can look to creep it up with a bigger meeting here in December. At the moment we're taking small steps and hopefully we can enjoy today and up our game next time."
At Ludlow, a good run from Braqueuer D'Or would mean a lot to some members of the ITV Racing team, with the nine-year-old having his first start since November 2018.
Now with Paul Webber and Old Gold Racing, Braqueur D'Or finished fourth in the Ladbrokes Trophy behind Total Recall when with Paul Nicholls, but has then been off the track and nursed back to health from what was feared to be a career-ending injury.
However, he is ready to go for the 3m1½f handicap chase, and has had the assistance of some special guests on the gallops.
Donald McCain has runners at Haydock and Ludlow and is excited for those who will be attending meetings today.
Three head to @haydockraces today. Wazowski (A McCain) Goobinator (B Hughes) & Khamsin Moor (S Quinlan) over @LudlowRaceClub we run Guildhall (L Murtagh). For those who are at last getting to go racing have a wonderful day!— Donald McCain (@donaldmccain) December 2, 2020
It will be a different experience for those in attendance at today's meetings, with racegoers needing to observe a strict code of conduct.
Racegoers, we've missed you!— The RCA (@TheRCA) December 2, 2020
All welcoming limited numbers of spectators today.
Please ensure you're familiar with the Code of Conduct https://t.co/oTTg0kwaYx pic.twitter.com/1vpEufpE9f
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