For many of us, the last time we set foot on a racecourse was last March at Prestbury Park for one of the strangest Cheltenham Festivals in memory. For this scribe, my bankroll certainly would have preferred a cancellation of the whole week!
As with the rest of the leisure sector, racecourses have been bleeding for a year now. Last July, Goodwood incurred over £100,000 in costs to prepare a Covid-secure trial day at the Glorious meeting, which was then canned at the last minute. Racecourses are managing their P/L account based on a number of scenarios and it might not be until early Summer when paying crowds are let back onto a course.
Lockdown, No Lockdown, Tier 3, Tier 4 – it’s becoming exhausting to be a racing fan in the UK, though clearly the current measures at February 2021 are best with our public health in mind. With most adults set to be offered a vaccine against Coronavirus by the end of May 2021, we think small crowds may begin to return to the races by mid-June.
Many will be hoping that there may still be an opportunity to attend either the Derby at Epsom, or Royal Ascot in June, but it is best to assume that those meetings would be owners-only, if that. A sunny evening at Beverley or Windsor will be the type of meeting to aim at, even if hospitality is limited and we are asked for temperature checks on the gate.
It would be hugely disappointing if there were not sizeable crowds back in time for the King George at Ascot this summer.
Last September, the Irish government limited crowds at Irish racecourses to 500 people for six months. Considered a fair bit harsher than the restrictions in Britain, Ireland’s fayre only returned from the initial lockdown in June 2020, which gives us bad vibes about a swift return.
Monday 26 July 2021 will be the start of the Galway Races Summer Festival, but I would not be booking annual leave for a trip there just yet.
Ireland is not using the popular AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on people aged over 70, which is going to mean a much slower vaccine rollout than Britain, you would think.
The Irish Champion Stakes in mid-September looks like something for Irish fans to aim at.
France narrowly avoided a return to lockdown last month but curfews are still in place. British fans surely will not be able to attend anything like the Guineas, Jockey Club or Diane this summer as France has banned Brits from entering from 20 December 2020 due to fears around the ‘British variant’ of Covid-19.
For French nationals though, despite the sluggish vaccine programme, there is a feeling that crowds may return for April – much to the envy of us Brits! Bars and restaurants are still closed, but hoping to open in the next six weeks, whilst open-air stadiums are likely to re-open to a capacity of 2000, based on 2020 form, by the end of May.