The return of capacity crowds at British racecourses moved another step closer on Monday when Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the plan for further easing of lockdown restrictions in England will go ahead on July 19.
Step 4 in the road map includes the lifting of social distancing and removing the obligation to wear face coverings – but the public are still advised to wear them in crowded, indoor spaces “such as public transport”.
The Prime Minister said: “It is absolutely vital that we proceed with caution” and that “the pandemic is not over” but confirmed that the so-called “freedom day” would see the end of most restrictions.
Ascot hosts the first major raceday after restrictions have been lifted with the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes on July 24, while Beverley, Cartmel and Windsor are the tracks in England in action at the beginning of the week.
However, some protocols are expected to remain in place at racecourses to protect the participants.
Racecourse chief executive David Armstrong said: “It is fantastic news that racecourses in England will be able to welcome racegoers without restriction from Monday July 19. The RCA is working closely with the racecourses in England to prepare for full capacities and we will continue to communicate with our industry partners and the devolved governments for an update from Wales and Scotland.
“It has been a difficult time for the racing industry and we estimate that the pandemic has cost racecourses £400m. However, with some of the sport’s most iconic marquee events just around the corner, including the Qatar Goodwood Festival, Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival and Cazoo St Leger Festival, it looks set to be a brilliant summer of racing.”
The RCA, alongside Great British Racing, is working to attract racegoers back on course, reminding everyone that racing is a great day out for all
He went on: “The RCA, alongside Great British Racing, is working to attract racegoers back on course, reminding everyone that racing is a great day out for all. It is also important to remember that racecourses are safe venues to visit. As well as having vast amounts of outdoor space the racecourses, in line with government messaging, will encourage spectators to remain vigilant and use their own judgement while on course to keep everybody comfortable and safe.
“In order to protect racing’s key participants and minimise the risk of self-isolation, it may be necessary for a small number of restrictions to remain in place, but these will be removed as soon as it is deemed safe to do so.”
The British Horseracing Authority said in a statement: “It is very pleasing to hear that the planned easing of restrictions which were announced last week have today been confirmed.
“The return of spectators to race meetings in greater numbers in England represents a significant and much needed step along the sport’s plans for recovery from the impacts of Covid-19. We await further announcements from the Scottish and Welsh Governments on their Covid regulations later this week.
“The industry is working together to finalise the infection control measures that will be in place to protect the sport’s participants, particularly those working mainly in and around the Weighing Room Complex, which remains a higher-risk area.
“Full details of these plans will be published in the coming days.”
The Prime Minister also said at his Downing Street press conference that now was the right time to lift restrictions due to the “natural firebreak” of the school holidays.
“We also know if we were to now delay this fourth step, for instance to September, or later, then we would be reopening as the weather gets colder and as the virus acquires a greater natural advantage and when schools are back,” he said.
“We think now is the right moment to proceed when we have the natural firebreak of the school holidays in the next few days.”