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'Heart and soul of racing' - Doncaster delight as racegoers return in September

Racegoers will be back at Doncaster on St Leger day
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British racing on Wednesday took its first tentative steps on its recovery mission when it was announced racegoers would be back on track in two weeks – a key priority in the industry's response to the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Racegoers have been absent from courses since March and the sport, which returned on June 1, has taken place behind closed doors, with only essential personnel, later followed by owners, in attendance.

However, following government approval, that is set to change next month when Doncaster hosts its four-day Pertemps St Leger meeting starting on September 9.

There is scope for 3,640 general admissions that afternoon, rising to 6,202 for the following three days, while Warwick and Newmarket will also host trials a fortnight later.

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Doncaster is owned by Arena Racing Company (Arc) and Mark Spincer, managing director of the group's racing division, said: "We are delighted the government and local authorities have taken the decision to allow us to pilot the return of a crowd at Doncaster.

"Welcoming a crowd is absolutely fundamental to our business as well as being the heart and soul of the spectacle. The team at Doncaster have worked incredibly hard on making sure we have all the steps in place to welcome a limited number of spectators in a safe and efficient manner.

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"The event is a pilot so the experience may be different than customers have got used to, but we are putting everything into making sure our customers have an enjoyable afternoon's racing as well as offering valuable feedback to the process of allowing crowds back to sporting events generally."

A trial of 5,000 people was due to take place on the fifth and final day of Glorious Goodwood this month, but was scrapped at the last minute due to a spike in coronavirus cases across parts of Britain and racing has waited anxiously for developments on racegoers returning.

Spincer added: "The impact of the lockdown has been immense on the industry, as it has been for all sports and live events. While we have been delighted to get back to work behind closed doors, our industry and many others rely massively on crowds, so to get this event is a huge step in the right direction.

"We know we may still be subject to the vagaries of the current situation beyond our control, but we will ensure that we get the elements under our control right and our customers can enjoy coming racing once again."

Warwick: jumps meeting takes place on September 21

Warwick's jumps card on September 21 will be the next opportunity for racegoers with provision for 1,250 people, which includes 200 owners and trainers, 186 annual members and 864 general admissions and hospitality bookers, while capacity for the bet365 Cambridgeshire fixture at Newmarket, which takes place on September 24-26, will be finalised soon.

A spokesperson for Jockey Club Racecourses, which runs Warwick and Newmarket, said: "We're really pleased to be staging two pilot events with spectators next month. It's an important step towards welcoming spectators back to racing events as soon as it's appropriate to do so, and on this long road to recovery we're on as an industry."

The return of racegoers was among a host of trials at sporting events announced on Wednesday as the government aims for a full reopening in October.

Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: "I know fans and their teams can't wait to be reunited in stadia across the country but it’s imperative we take a cautious and phased approach to get fans back in safely.

"I'm pleased that infection rates have levelled off enough to resume the pilot programme and we will continue to work intensively with sports, medical and health and safety experts towards welcoming more fans back as fast as we can."

More to read:

'Trade was okay but we're glad to be back' - bookmakers return on course

Andrew Gemmell: on-course experience 'soulless' for owners since resumption

Goodwood managing director warns racecourses could close if crowds don't return

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Welcoming a crowd is absolutely fundamental to our business as well as being the heart and soul of the spectacle
E.W. Terms