Doncaster will stage the final three days of the St Leger Festival behind closed doors after the local council called a halt to the crowd pilot scheme at the track.
The Town Moor venue welcomed an estimated 2,500 spectators to Wednesday’s opening day, with that figure planned to rise around 6,000 for the Pertemps St Leger on Saturday.
However, the pilot began under the shadow of revised Government guidance that was outlined late on Tuesday evening, with gatherings to be limited to just six from Monday, rather than the 30-people limit that is in place now.
On the grounds of public health and public safety Director of Public Health Dr @RupertSuckling has instructed Doncaster Racecourse to hold the St Leger Festival behind closed doors from tomorrow.— Doncaster Council (@MyDoncaster) September 9, 2020
Here’s Dr Suckling explaining further ????
Full statement: https://t.co/JqObLsmT6o pic.twitter.com/4LMo7UlB9h
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to make a statement on the issue at 4pm, but Doncaster Council preempted that move by announcing it had instructed Arena Racing Company, which operates the track, to complete the meeting behind closed doors.
Mark Spincer, managing director of ARC’s racing division, said: “We have had confirmation this afternoon from the local authority that we will not be able to admit a crowd to the final three days of the St Leger Festival, Thursday 10th to Saturday 12th September.
“The race meeting will continue on a ‘behind closed doors’ basis, as per all other race meetings currently taking place in Britain.
“This pilot event represents a hugely important step not just for our business but for the whole of British racing as well as the sports and hospitality industries as a whole. We do, of course, fully understand and respect the decision and will be contacting all of our customers booked for the remaining three days as a matter of urgency.
“We were pleased to work closely with Doncaster Council to set up this pilot event in the manner that we had, but matters beyond anyone’s control, and the data that regarding local rates that have come to light today, mean we will not be able to welcome a crowd from Thursday onwards.
“We would, of course, like to thank all of our customers for their support in the run up to this event as well as our staff who have done a monumental job in preparing the site.”
Dr Rupert Suckling, director of public health for Doncaster, said in a statement: “I wanted to update you on the St Leger and my position considering the factors I mentioned in my previous message. However, as I have already said, I am assessing the situation daily against the 10 tests I set out to hold the event.
“I am concerned that the 10th and final test covering critical incident risks addressed throughout the event such as managing gatherings of people, public disorder risks across the borough, will be jeopardised by potentially more people meeting up ahead of any further Government changes to the coronavirus advice this weekend.
“The current rate of infection for the borough currently stands at 10.6 infections per 100,000 people which I have been updated on today and this is an increase due to a range of factors including an increase in testing and a lag in the test results coming in.
“Therefore on the grounds of public health and public safety, I have instructed the racecourse to hold the St Leger Festival behind closed doors from tomorrow.
“The day’s racing will continue today as it is safer to manage racegoers on site and with enhanced test and trace, it will be easier to identify where they are from rather than closing the event today and leaving people to their own devices in Doncaster and the borough generally.
“I appreciate this decision may not be met with universal agreement but it is the safest and most appropriate way to move forward for everyone’s best interests in the borough and beyond.”
A similar pilot scheme planned for the final day of Glorious Goodwood last month was called off the day before the meeting due to revised Government guidance, but hopes had been high the four days on Town Moor – the first day of crowds since the coronavirus shutdown in March – would signal the beginning of a gradual return to something like normality.
Further pilot events are planned at Warwick and Newmarket later this month and the Racecourse Association (RCA) will engage with “public health authorities nationally to establish what the next steps will be” for those dates and also on how it will bring back the public more broadly.
The RCA also warned that a significant delay to the return of spectators would be “a hammer-blow for racecourses and the racing industry” as more than half of racecourses’ incomes is generated by racegoers.
RCA chief executive David Armstrong added: “The RCA and all in racing will be very disappointed by today’s developments. We all know how important these pilots are to securing the return of crowds.
“The racecourse teams and the RCA have put in many hours of detailed work and planning to ensure the protocols are comprehensive and robust. As the second biggest spectator sport in the country, we pride ourselves on the quality of our sport and the entertainment it brings to so many.
“The health of the public and our own staff and participants is paramount, but the economic and financial pressure on the industry has already cost jobs and more will follow.”