Talking Horses: Warwick racecourse to host fans for jumps season opener

Greg Wood and Chris Cook
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Warwick racecourse will stage its first jumps meeting of the new season on Monday with a maximum of 474 spectators in attendance, after its pilot to pave the way for a more widespread return of spectators to tracks received the go-ahead from local council officials on Wednesday.

The maximum crowd is below the 800 which the course had originally hoped to admit and there will be no tickets on general sale as a result. Instead, the limited capacity will be filled from annual members and racegoers with pre-booked tickets for hospitality areas.

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The course will also contact all ticket holders from areas under local lockdown measures – including nearby Birmingham and Solihull – to inform them that they will not be able to attend, and offer a refund or a switch to a meeting later in the year.

“We’ve gone through a very robust process with our public health authority,” said Andre Klein, Warwick’s general manager. “They’ve taken this very seriously and sensibly, and said that it was the most compelling argument they had seen in Warwickshire at any stage.

“Any customers from areas identified as high-risk by public health will be contacted to tell them they can’t come. You can imagine how onerous that is, but that’s one of many different health and safety measures we’ve got in place.

“Public health will give us a list of local authorities they deem unsafe on Friday evening and we will contact everyone then. With our annual members, that could be quite a high percentage [who are unable to attend], as quite a lot come from the Birmingham and Solihull districts.”

The decision to restrict attendance means that last Wednesday’s card at Doncaster is still the only meeting since mid-March where some tickets have been on general sale. The track’s planned four-day pilot was cut short after one day following an intervention by Doncaster’s director of public health.

“I can understand why it was a difficult decision for our public health authority,” Klein said, “but we’ve got a great relationship with both the local and district councils and it had to happen under a set of protocols that they were really happy with.

“They’ve also got to be fair, because Warwick Castle is 500 metres away and has 2,500 guests every day, there are massive car boot sales and markets. They need to deliver a level playing field and give us a fair trading opportunity. They’ve done that, and we’re really pleased.”

Warwick’s pilot on Monday is due to be followed by a three-day trial with 1,000 spectators each afternoon at Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire meeting from 24-26 September, which was approved by local officials on Tuesday.

In Ireland, however, the prospects for any return of significant crowds to racecourses still appear bleak after the Taoiseach, Micheal Martin, set out a road map for the next six months of its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan sets out five levels of Covid-19 spread with the country at level 2, allowing only 200 additional attendees at meetings along with officials and participants. Should its situation improve to level 1, the limit will rise to just 500 at venues which were previously able to accommodate 5,000 spectators.

That would, on the face of it, rule out any paying attendance at Leopardstown’s four-day Christmas fixtures as well as the two-day Dublin Racing Festival in early February – six of the seven biggest days at Ireland’s best-attended track.

Thursday’s best bets, by Chris Cook

It’s not every horse who tackles Pontefract’s final hill with relish but Highwaygrey (3.20, not actually grey) comes alive at the Yorkshire track. He is unbeaten in three trips there this year and has since run well off his revised rating at Chester.

His recent Haydock flop could be a sign that he’s done enough for the year, but soft ground seems a more likely explanation. Back on a sound surface, he may go in again at 5-2, having shortened from the opening 6s last night.

No one wants to know Striding Edge (4.20), who has gone out to 14-1, but that could be a mistake as he returns to the course and distance where he hosed up in July. He failed to stay when upped in trip next time, then blew out completely at Wolverhampton, not for the first time. With his stable back among the winners and Franny Norton taking over from a claimer in the saddle, he’s worth another chance.

Pontefract 1.15 Sir Maxi 1.45 My Dandy Doc 2.20 Last Surprise 2.50 Wadacre Galoubet 3.20 Highwaygrey (nap) 3.50 Opera Gift 4.20 Striding Edge

Ayr 2.00 Baileys Derbyday 2.30 George Ridsdale 3.00 Nicholas T (nb) 3.30 Wondrous Words 4.00 Alix James 4.30 Gweedore 5.00 Sound Of Iona 5.35 Cormier

Yarmouth 2.40 Crystal Pegasus 3.10 Hyanna 3.40 Francesco Guardi 4.10 Arousing 4.40 Al Saariyah 5.10 City Walk 5.40 Prince Caspar

Chelmsford 4.25 Likely Successor 4.55 Life Matters 5.30 Tomshalfbrother 6.00 Full Authority 6.30 First Target 7.00 Irish Times 7.30 Jeanette May 8.00 Fivehundredmiles 8.30 Burniston Rocks

In similar vein, you can get 14-1 about Nicholas T (3.00) at Ayr, where he has won six times. He’s only 1lb higher than when he won here in June on his most recent visit, though this is a hotter race. He has been well held in three runs since, but two of those were in very tough contests at York and Goodwood.