Racecourses have been unusually quiet over the past 14 months, as the global COVID pandemic at first shut racing down all together, and then allowed it to continue but in empty venues.
Only those vital to the running of the sport were allowed entry, while the rest of us, the bettors, the fans, and even the owners, had to steer clear.
But Monday is May 17th, the long awaited date for the easing of lockdown restrictions in line with stage 3 of Boris’s plan to get the country back up and running – and that means punters can enter the race course again for the first time.
Racecourses Will be a Little Different
Of course, this is a staggered easing of the rules so the floodgates won’t open to allow hordes of eager fans into the stalls.
Up to 4,000 people will be allowed through the gates, and owners will be allowed back in the parade ring where social distancing rules can be adhered to. This means courses with smaller rings might struggle.
Personally, I haven’t seen anyone making an effort to socially distance for months, but those in positions of responsibility need to lead the way in this respect, and we can all agree that horse racing doesn’t need any further set backs.
This also means that venues can start serving food and drinks again, in what will be a very welcome and much needed boost to their balance sheets.
Chief Exec of the RCA, David Armstrong, said:
“Lockdown began almost 14 months ago and it has been a very challenging journey for the industry and for racecourses in particular through several false starts and aborted pilot events. May the 17th marks a key step on the return to normality.”
He also commented that Monday would be a huge milestone in the recovery of British racing.
This good news doesn’t extend as far as Scotland and Wales though unfortunately, where courses will remain closed until further notice.
On Course Bookies Rejoice
While online gambling suffered very little during the past year, with many companies actually doing quite nicely out of it, spare a thought for those small on course bookies who work for themselves.
This will be the dawn of their return to work, and it will be interesting – and perhaps sad – to see how many of them come back to it and how many have hung up their boards for good.
On course bookmaking was difficult enough even before the pandemic, with declining numbers at regular meets as more and more people wagered online. This article from a year ago shows that many were already starting to struggle back then.
They will be crossing their fingers that punters return in force, thirsty for some real life racing entertainment after living the last year through computer and phone screens.
It would be wonderful if all the pain and hardship of the extended lockdown resulted in a boost in numbers at racecourses over the next few months, and even beyond – perhaps even revitalising the sport of racing for years to come.