York preparing for ‘level of normality’ as racing crowds set to return this summer

YORK Racecourse hope full crowds could return by the end of the summer as the Knavesmire track prepares for its season-opening Dante meeting.

Covid restrictions mean that only owners will be permitted to attend this week’s three-day meeting, starting with Epsom Oaks contenders Noon Star and Teona contesting today’s Tattersalls Musidora Stakes.

However 4,000 spectators, including annual badge holders, hospitality guests, sponsors and members of the public, can attend York’s next fixture on May 22 – tickets are already on sale ahead of the lockdown being further eased from Monday.

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And chief executive William Derby says the more significant date will be July 31 when all over-18s are due to have received their first vaccine under the Government’s current timetable.

No crowds will be present for York's season-opening Dante meeting. Photo: James Hardisty.

His comments come after York’s annual turnover fell from £24.4m in 2019 to £6.7m last year – a reduction of 72 per cent. This led to a pre-tax loss of £2.6m in 2020 compared to a profit of £2.4m in 2019.

Like all sporting and entertainment venues, York is waiting for clarity from the Government on the Covid rules that will remain in place after June 21 when Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants Covid lockdown rules to end.

It is widely accepted that some restrictions will remain – but Derby hopes the vaccine programme could pave the way for normal crowds to attend the flagship Ebor Festival in August.

And while this meeting does not traditionally attract the 40,000-plus crowds that flock to York on its busiest Saturdays in summer, this is very much the hope after behind-closed-doors racing throughout 2020.

The statue of Frankel at the entrance to York Racecourse. Photo: James Hardisty.

“We would be hopeful that, by the time of the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival in August which is three weeks after the date when the whole adult population is due to be vaccinated, we would be able to welcome a full and normal raceday crowd to our flagship meeting,” Derby told The Yorkshire Post.

“I think the wider concert and mass gatherings industry is increasingly looking forward to things returning to a level of normality at this point in the summer.”

In the meantime, Derby says tickets for all meetings are now on sale via the racecourse’s website with a full refund policy in place. “We will try to make May 22 as much a normal York raceday as possible but there will be less people and social distancing in line with the rest of the world,” he added.

“Like the rest of the country, and sporting world, we are waiting to see what the Government’s plans are for after June 21.”

James Hardisty's photograph of the statue of Frankel at York racecourse last week.

As for racing, Teddy Grimthorpe – York’s former chairman and racing manager to Juddmonte – hopes Noon Star can book her place in next month’s Cazoo Oaks.

Six horses have won this race, and then followed up at Epsom, since this contest was inaugurated 60 years ago to celebrate Musidora, the Yorkshire-trained winner of the 1,000 Guineas and Epsom Oaks in 1949. Sir Michael Stoute’s filly is certainly bred for next month’s Epsom showpiece, being a daughter of the brilliant Derby hero Galileo and top-class racemare Midday, who was beaten a head by Sariska in the Oaks in 2009.

Noon Star, owned and bred by the late Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte operation, has won two of her three starts to date – most recently impressing on her three-year-old debut in a novice event at Wetherby two and a half weeks ago.

“She’s got to prove that she’s a worthy candidate,” said Grimthorpe.

This is York's paddock and winner's enclosure. Photo: James Hardisty.

Meanwhile, Malton trainer Richard Fahey saddled his 3,000th winner last night when Hong Kong Harry won at Ayr under Paul Hanaghan.

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