Beverley on track to welcome back the roar of the crowd, says Sally Iggulden

SALLY Iggulden’s wish is a very simple one as Beverley Racecourse prepares to host its flagship fixture of the year today.

Beverley Racecourse hosts its biggest meeting of the year today, featuring the Hilary Needler Trophy.

“I can’t wait to hear a lot of noise from the crowd as the horses come up the home straight,” the chief executive told The Yorkshire Post.

They are also prophetic words. Iggulden – and her team – had been hoping to welcome 2,500 spectators to the Westwood track on Wednesday for the first time in more than 18 months.

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Yet anticipation soon turned to despair when prolonged rain forced the meeting to be abandoned due to waterlogging.

Sally Iggulden is chief executive of Beverley Racecourse.

Now their hope is to host 3,500 racegoers, and the ITV cameras, this afternoon for the feature Hilary Needler Trophy, a noted Royal Ascot trial for two-year-old fillies and won in the past by Mark Johnston’s future Classic heroine Attraction.

“At least it’s raining,” said a phlegmatic Iggulden on Wednesday morning because, she says, there is nothing worse than calling off racing when the weather is dry. They are also words which explain the resilience and perseverance of a racecourse which has been a spectator-free zone, other than livestock grazing on the Westwood, since September, 2019.

“We’ve had racing, which is wonderful, but it has been very quiet,” she reflected. “All sport will have felt it. Sport without crowds is a very different animal.

“It is why I can’t wait to hear a lot of noise from the crowd as the horses come up the home straight – it’s been a long wait.”

Beverley Racecourse hosts its biggest meeting of the year today, featuring the Hilary Needler Trophy.

Yet, after Wednesday’s disappointment, at least the wait is only 72 hours and Beverley can showcase itself on terrestrial television as one of Britain’s most picturesque tracks as ITV presenter Ed Chamberlin champions those smaller tracks that are the sport’s lifeblood.

It will not, however, be a capacity crowd – the number of spectators, owners, jockeys, trainers and raceday officials will be half of the 7,500 total attendance that Iggulden would normally expect on such a prestigious day.

But, she says, it is a start and the hope is that capacity crowds will be permitted for its June 22 programme – a day after the Government is hoping to ease the last of the lockdown restrictions if the public health situation permits.

“We’re following developments carefully and hoping that will be the case,” said Iggulden. “We’ll be following Government guidelines and it is likely that racegoers will still have to book tickets in advance rather than turning up on the gate. We will be taking a cautious approach to having crowds back.”

Beverley Racecourse hosts its biggest meeting of the year today, featuring the Hilary Needler Trophy.

Today’s meeting will be a chance for spectators to take advantage of improved access to the main grandstand – the first phase of a long-planned £3.5m redevelopment. It has a bigger capacity – both to watch the racing – and inside the redeveloped building which is another positive virtue in this era of social distancing.

Yet the pandemic’s impact on the racecourse, and its finances, means the next stages of the biggest redevelopment in the racecourse’s history will now take place over the next five years.

Beverley, says Iggulden, was a course where approximately 20 per cent of its annual income comprised non-raceday events like conferences, exhibitions, trade fairs and weddings as companies – and families – took advantage of the Westwood setting.

“We’d worked so hard to build up that side of the business. Unfortunately, we’ve got to start again from scratch,” she rued.

This predicament is not unique to Beverley – even courses as prestigious, and well-run as York, realise that there is now an even greater premium, as the country emerges from lockdown, to make the most of its facilities on non-racedays.

In the meantime, Iggulden says she, and her team, are grateful for the support and counsel from the region’s eight other racecourses ahead of today’s test – she says the level of co-operation between the tracks has, in fact, been a positive legacy of the pandemic.

In turn, Beverley remains home to one of the East Riding’s vaccine centres and is proud that it is able to support the NHS at this important time.

“It’s been really nice having them here and Beverley being part of this collective national effort,” she added.

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