York Racecourse wants Ebor Festival to be test event for return of spectators

YORK still hopes to be given special dispensation for paying spectators to attend next month’s Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival.

Sinjaari ridden by Stevie Donohoe (red cap) won the John Smith's Cup at York.

A Government trial in the coming weeks will see cricket, snooker and racing – namely the final day of the forthcoming Glorious Goodwood meeting – host pilot events in front of a select number of fans.

The tests, and their ability to conform to social distancing, are the precursor to more spectators returning to sports venues from October 1 – the likely date for the 2020-21 football season to begin.

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However, York is in dialogue with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, as well as racing’s stakeholders, about opening up the Ebor festival from August 19-22 to some racegoers.

Moss Gill ridden by Daniel Tudhope (centre) wins the John Smith's City Walls Stakes at York.

Chief executive William Derby was speaking following the successful staging of the two-day John Smith’s Cup meeting at historic York.

Though public access to the Knavesmire was maintained for local residents, a combination of barriers and screens prevented racing fans from gathering to watch the turf action.

“We’re hopeful, but we need the Government to approve a pilot,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“The Government has not ruled out the prospect of further pilots in sport, between August 1 and October 1.

Gorytus ridden by David Nolan wins Read Nick luck's Blog At news.williamhill.com EBF Novice Median Auction Stakes at York Racecourse. (Picture: PA)

“Goodwood is a great start – but we would offer a slightly different test that could help to inform the Government’s wider approach.

“We are a city centre location and a sports venue with a major transport interchange which people use to get to and from the racecourse.”

This year’s Ebor meeting is already attracting entries from leading horses with Charlie Appleby’s Eclipse hero Ghaiyyath, the world’s highest-rated horse at present on current ratings, firmly on track for the Juddmonte International.

The Charlie Hills-trained Battaash, the world’s fastest horse, is due to defend his sprint title in the Coolmore Nunthorpe while Aidan O’Brien’s dual Classic heroine Love, the season’s top three-year-old, is an intended runner in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks.

Yet, while Derby expects the quality of horses will have little influence on the Government, he hopes York’s willingness to have a controlled number of spectators on all four days of the flagship fixture will allow DCMS and public health officials to observe protocols on cleanliness and so on.

“It will be good to try it out over multiple days. Either way, we will be ready. We haven’t given up hope, but we are in the hands of the Government and DCMS,” he added.

On the track, Sinjaari gave Yorkshire-born trainer William Haggas his third win in the John Smith’s Cup when storming home in the 61st running of the big mile-and-a-quarter handicap under Steve Donohoe.

Haggas, successful with Green Destiny in 2011 and Danchai 2103, said: “I’m thrilled to bits he’s come back to himself as he lost his way last spring having looked a bit useful.

“What he loved today was the fast pace and I’m sure he appreciated the drop of rain. I’m not sure what happened last season. It’s just great to win a race to win with him – it’s a great race, a race we try to find one for every year.”

Donohoe was delighted with the win. “With lockdown we’re all taking a hit and it’s good to get a nice winner,” he said.

There was also a notable double for Thirsk jockey Danny Tudhope who took the John Smith’s Silver Cup on the David O’Meara-trained Eagles By Day – the Ebor looks next for the Steve Parkin-owned runner. Tudhope then took the City Walls Stakes by a short head on James Bethell’s sprinter Moss Gill. The Nunthorpe could be on the cards.

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