'We feel safe' say Doncaster racegoers on what turns out to be the only day of the St Leger festival to have spectators

It may have been for one day only.

Wednesday, 9th September 2020, 7:18 pm

But racegoers finally got the chance to see some action as some 3,000 spectators were allowed into Doncaster Racecourse to take in the first day of the borough’s historic St Leger festival.

Those arriving early this afternoon thought they would see the first of four days action in front of crowds as part of a pilot scheme to get crowds back into racecourses. But a decision today by public health bosses means today was the only day of this year’s festival that will see spectators allowed.

Those arriving today saw a very different scene to previous festivals running around the world’s oldest classic.

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Keith and Christine Boughen on their way to the St Leger festival today at Doncaster Racecourse

The car park was not full, and the pavement on Leger Way, resonating to the sound of a lone bagpipes busker at the roadside, was not bustling in the way it would usually be on race day.

Face masks went on as soon as visitors entered the grounds of the racecourse, with forms to fill in on arrival, and hand sanitiser posts to use as the early September sun bathed the scene in warmth.

But with or without masks, those who had tickets were excited to be getting back to an activity that had been on hold for nearly six months.

Friends Michael Russell, and Alex Mellor, from Goole, Rachel Oates, from Styrrup, and Emma Old, from Harworth, had been looking forward to finally getting a day at the races.

Michael Russell, of Goole, Rachel Oates, of Stryrrup, Emma Old, of Harworth, and Alex Mellor, of Goole at Doncaster Racecourse today for the St Leger Festival

Michael said it did not feel like they had taken a big risk coming to the races, and said it felt safe.

But Rachel was aware it was not like any other race day she had been to at Town Moor.

"It feels a bit weird,” she said. “Where are all the crowds that you would usually see at this time? With all the safety measures that they have put in place, I do feel safe. They have everyone sitting at tables in small groups.”

Alex said he was excited to be there, as did Emma.

Michelle Owen, of Wetherby, at Doncaster Races today

Emma added: “I’m happy now I’ve seen how they’re doing this, and that there’s not as many people as you would usually see here. I’ve been working at home for six months, so it really feels great to be out.”

Pensioner William Robinson, from Balby, was at the races with four friends. He has been a racegoer all his life. “I thought it was great when they said they were letting spectators in,” he said. “It’s what Doncaster needs.”

Keith and Christine Boughen are regular racegoers, and are members at the racecourse. Christine was finely dressed in a floral dress, and a bright yellow jacket and yellow fascinator, while Keith arrived in a smart checked suit.

Keith said: “We last came down here in March, just before lockdown – it was the last race they held before everything closed.

Peter Barker, of Leeds, at the races in Doncaster today at Doncaster Racecourse

“I feel a bit apprehensive, because it’s not going to be normal. It’s not the same as before but we’re still looking forward to it.”

Christine added: “I also think that we’ve got to support businesses. We’ve got to start making some progress towards getting back to normal, or to whatever the new normal is.

"I think it feels safe here today. We have to try.”

Christine, prophetically, said she was surprised that the whole four days were going ahead with spectators – later in the afternoon, that was cut back to just today, Wednesday. But Keith felt the organisers would have been able to make tweeks to the arrangements as they learned what was best practice over the four days.

Peter Barker, a member of the Yorkshire Racing Club, had travelled from Leeds to see the action – and said he had missed horse racing very much. He likes Doncaster very much, and felt safe with the arrangements that had been put in place.

He said: “We go to all the meetings in Yorkshire.

"It’s a pilot. This is hopefully the start of getting spectators back into sport generally.”

Michelle Owen had travelled from North Yorkshire to be at the races, and was delighted to be able to go again.

Michelle, from Wetherby, said: “It’s brilliant. Obviously the weather’s helped so we’ve got nice sunshine today. It’s nice to get back into the horse racing – I do miss it totally so I’m really looking forward to it.

"I think you need to come racing to see what the experience is like but I do love coming to the races and Doncaster is a very good racecourse to come to. “

She said it felt safe at the course.

"Everyone’s very calm. People have got masks and everything, and I think the majority of people are going to be sensible.”

The council had originally given the green light for four days of racing – but the Government announced on Tuesday night that they would be bringing in strict new guidelines for public gatherings from Monday September 21.

That prompted the announcement today that after today, the remainder of the festival, including the famous St Leger race on Saturday would be behind closed doors.

Previously, public health boss Dr Rupert Suckling had announced 10 tests he had wanted to see met, which he had felt were satisfied.

The seven day infection rate from September 4 was 2.6 per 100,000, which had placed Doncaster as 145 out of 149 local authorities.

From ticket sales, it was expected that half of racegoers would be from Doncaster, 25 per cent from South Yorkshire, 20 per cent from Yorkshire and five per cent from elsewhere.

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