Will the public be allowed back to Ascot for Champions Day?

horse racing image to represent Shishkin racehorse - note not a picture of the horse Cheltenham Races

Will the public be allowed back to Ascot for Champions Day?

The disappointment for Glorious Goodwood is still burning. The permission to allow 5,000 racegoers on the final day on August 1st was revoked 24 hours before the “pilot event”. The Government gave just this short notice that lockdown easing has been put back by at least a fortnight. The epidemiologic situation is still unfavourable. Hence, one more race behind closed doors.

Disappointed punters can still use Horse Betting Racing UK to wager on their favourites. The races are up, but the courses are fretting on the financial losses piling up.  Adam Waterworth, managing director of sport at the Goodwood Estate, estimates that the cancelled 5000 visitors will cost the track a six-figure sum. He also warned that the trial events must to start soon if crowds are to be allowed back into sporting events in time,

The planned date to open the gates of sporting events to the public is October 1st. If the schedule can be maintained, the public will still have a chance to attend this glorious finale to the British Flat season, on Saturday 17th  October. On that occasion, “the leading horses and jockeys from Europe and beyond descend on Ascot in their quest to be crowned the champions of 2020”, as described in the racecourse presentation. Racegoers may choose from three distinctive enclosures – the King Edward VII, Winning Post and Queen Anne, with tickets starting at £24.00.

The organizers have not given up hope, though the prize fund has suffered a considerable cut. The Champions Day is the richest race of the season, but this year the overall sum is expected to drop by 40%, from last year’s £4.2m in prize money to £2.5m over six races. The Champion Stakes, Britain’s richest race, will see its purse curtailed from £1.3m to £750,000.

The £1.7m cut is huge, but still less than Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood, that suffered from 50% cuts on their prize funds, compared to 2019. The same fate awaits York’s Ebor meeting at the end of August. This is the most direct effect of the restrictions, since Ascot depends on the public’s attendance for about 70% of its earnings. Ticket sales, hospitality packages, on-course betting and other purchases are money flowing in, spent by more than 550,000 racegoers per season. Champions Day usually originates a 30,000 sellout to close the season comfortably. Later, in November, jumping could attract around 15,000 visitors to the course for a big Saturday meeting.

Safety plans will require substantial investments by all racecourses, to adapt infrastructure in order to enable social distancing and allow spectators to enjoy the races in a protected environment. Several venues are hoping to host pilot events allowing for a gradual return of the crowd. Doncaster is aiming at its St Leger meeting in September. Jockey Club Racecourses has put forward a candidature for Sandown Park, Haydock and Newmarket to welcome spectators back from late August onwards.

All eyes are set on Ascot, though, as the most representative of classical British courses. If the public could be allowed back there before 2020 is over, it would be an enormous psychological advantage for the whole industry. A sign that things are finally going back to normal.

Image for illustration only.

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