Spectators could be back on racetrack at Ludlow, Lingfield, Haydock and Kempton on Wednesday – because all four courses are in Tier 2 areas under the government’s post-lockdown restrictions.
Prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that outdoor venues in Tier 1 and 2 areas would be allowed to admit spectators on a limited basis after the end of the national lockdown on 2 December, with up to 4,000 spectators or 50% capacity limits – whichever is lowest – in place in Tier 1, dropping to 2,000, or 50% capacity, in Tier 2.
With Shropshire, Surrey, Merseyside and London all falling under Tier 2 restrictions, as published by the government on Thursday, all four tracks could welcome racegoers next week - although courses in Tier 3 areas, such as Newcastle, Wolverhampton and Leicester, will not be allowed spectators.
Ludlow’s general manager Simon Sherwood is looking forward to the return of a crowd, although he is anticipating no more than 600 spectators on the day as the track “treads cautiously”.
He said: “We’re trying to work out the configuration of the course with a crowd back. It will be great for the atmosphere. We’ll tread cautiously being one of the first back. We’re allowed 2,000, but realistically we’ll be welcoming our members back first and then a small amount of the public. I wouldn’t have thought we’d be pushing close to 2,000, our capacity wouldn’t allow that anyway with social distancing.
“For that meeting in December, we’d normally get around 1,500 to 2,000, but I suspect we’ll be having between 500 and 600. The fact the other meetings are in Tier 2 does take a bit of the pressure off, otherwise all eyes would have been on us. It will be interesting to see how people engage as I’m sure there will be a bit of nervousness to start with.
“No one will be allowed to turn up and walk into the racecourse. For the members, we have all their details and have informed them already what the protocol is going to be, they have to ring in advance. Because of our numbers it is all going to be done through our office, but the actual detail, we haven’t been informed what that is.
“We need to decide if we’ll be selling alcohol. We might take a view that as you have to serve substantial food to have alcohol, we might not make it available to the public. However, for the owners, because they’ll be having substantial food, alcohol would be available. We might just take a cautious route to start with on that.
“We have a Christmas meeting so if all goes right next week, hopefully we can expand a little then. Financially this is not going to be a record breaker, but what it will do is bring some much-needed atmosphere back to the course.”
Racing has been staged behind closed doors since its return on 1 June, barring two crowd pilots at Doncaster and Warwick in September. PA Media
Paisley Park begins long road to Cheltenham
For the first time since his unforgettable success in the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, Paisley Park is likely to start at odds-against when he returns to action at Newbury on Friday, eight months after losing his staying crown to Lisnagar Oscar, a 50-1 shot, in one of the biggest Festival upsets of recent years.
In part, the sponsor’s quote of 15-8 for the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle reflects the quality of the field lining up against Paisley Park for the feature event on the first day of Newbury’s Winter Carnival meeting. Four of his nine opponents are previous Grade One winners and all four are a bigger price to win on Friday than the 5-2 shot McFabulous, who took the Grade Two Persian War Hurdle on a tight rein last time out.
But in addition to beating a strong field first time up, Paisley Park also needs to convince his many fans that an irregular heartbeat which contributed to his defeat in March is in the past.
After he had carried all before him for nearly two seasons while compiling a seven-race winning streak, it was bitterly disappointing to see the eight-year-old surrender his stayers’ title so meekly but Andrew Gemmell, his owner, is confident the old Paisley Park will be back.
“He’s come out of his trials and tribulations with his heart since Cheltenham very well,” Gemmell said. “Emma [Lavelle, his trainer] is very pleased with him. The proof will be in the pudding but everything has gone well at home so far. He also lost two shoes [at Cheltenham] and he didn’t finish that far behind the winner.
“It’s a terrific race on Friday, with Thyme Hill, McFabulous, Lisnagar Oscar, and we’re the one to be shot at now.
“McFabulous won very easily but a couple of the horses behind him haven’t run so well next time out so I think the jury’s still out on him. I’m pretty worried about Thyme Hill [the Grade One Challow Hurdle winner] and Sam Spinner [also a former Grade One winner] is in there too, which is a bit of a surprise. It’s a top-notch race.”
Assuming that all goes well, Paisley Park will tread a familiar route back towards Cheltenham in March, though hopefully without a repeat of his last-minute scratching from the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot owing to heavy ground last year. Greg Wood
Southwell 11.50 Grimsthorpe Castle 12.20 Ustath (nap) 12.50 Byzantia 1.20 Gravity Force 1.50 Liamba 2.20 Atalanta Queen 2.50 Geography Teacher 3.20 Grand Pianola
Lingfield Park 12.33 Alka Step 1.03 Tribesmans Glory 1.33 Deebaj 2.03 Away For Slates 2.33 The Mick Preston 3.03 La Reine Poutine 3.33 Silent Man
Taunton 12.41 Runswick Bay 1.11 Nobel Joshua 1.41 Lex Eleven 2.11 Kauto The King (nb) 2.41 Dave And Bernie 3.11 De Barley Basket 3.41 Sehayli
Chelmsford 4.00 Isla Vista 4.30 Torrkee
5.00 Intuitive 5.30 Ayr Harbour 6.00 Cosmelli 6.30 Anisoptera 7.00 Double Reflection
Thursday’s best bets
Colin Tizzard’s stable has been working its way into form a little more slowly than in recent seasons but his strike-rate has more than doubled from 7pc in October to 16pc so far in November and Kauto The King (2.11) could nudge it a little higher at Taunton this afternoon.
The six-year-old was a disappointment over hurdles but made a positive start to his chasing career, winning a similar event to today’s off an opening mark of 110. He was a little bit below that form when third under a penalty next time, but that was after just eight days’ off and a 24-day break since could see him resume his progress over the bigger obstacles.
Dave And Bernie (2.41) is also of interest on the same card. The five-year-old made a winning debut for Oliver Signy after a switch from Ireland in September, recording a decent time in the progress, and is just 5lb higher today with further improvement likely.
At Lingfield, Tribesmans Glory (1.03) is fairly priced at around 5-2 to follow up an impressive win on his chasing debut, but the best bet of the day could be on the Fibresand at Southwell, where Ustath (12.20) is going for a fourth win in a row on the surface this month.
Roger Fell’s gelding has been transformed by the switch to Southwell, and even a 10lb penalty seems unlikely to stop him judged on the form and time of his latest comfortable win. Atalanta Queen (2.20) is also a decent price on the same card, while Intuitive (5.00) is worth a second look at Chelmsford City later.