“This isn’t just for racing, it is for all sport” as Doncaster prepares for St Leger Festival crowds

Top racing executive Mark Spincer has spoken about the weight of responsibility to all sport as crowds return to Doncaster for this week’s St Leger Festival.

Wednesday, 9th September 2020, 11:31 am
Photo by Steve Davies/Pool via Getty Images

More than 3,500 spectators – just a fraction of the Town Moor’s track capacity – are expected today, with that number rising to in excess of 6,000 for the 2020 renewal of the world’s oldest Classic.

It will be the first time that members of the public have been permitted to attend race meetings since just after the Cheltenham Festival in mid-March.

Limited tickets still remain available for the first three days of the meeting, though St Leger day is now sold out. They must be pre-purchased to ensure spectators comply with a code of conduct on public health and track and trace protocols.

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In the region of 250 staff will be present each day, and Spincer – managing director of Arena Racing Company’s racing division – has praised the commitment and dedication shown by the whole team to prepare for the return of spectators ahead of further trials later this month at both Warwick and Newmarket.

“We’re really looking forward to it – but it is with a mixture of apprehension and nervousness,” he said.

“This isn’t just for racing, it is for all sport, and every time there is an event like this, you have got everyone looking at you – whether they are pro or against.

“It is not without some pressure from the view as a sport as a whole, but we are hopeful we will be able to show a safe way forward for racing and other sport.”

Meanwhile, Ed Dunlop considers himself “honoured” to have Frankie Dettori riding Roca Magica for him in the Mondialiste Leger Legends Classified Stakes, today’s highlight.

The 49-year-old Italian jockey has won just about everything in the game – and was determined to sign up for the race, backed by Elwick Stud, when conditions were changed.

In the past it has been exclusively for retired riders, but this year it is for current professionals only, due to Covid-19 restrictions.

It has become an established attraction on the opening day of the St Leger Festival since 2010, and has raised more than £1.1m for Jack Berry House and the Northern Racing College.

Dunlop and Dettori have successfully teamed up in many big races over the years, including with Lailani, Ouija Board and Snow Fairy.

All jockeys are devoting their riding fees to the charities, with Paul Hanagan, the former champion jockey, determined to win on Malton trainer Richard Fahey’s Lexington Warfare.

Hanagan credits his recovery from career-threatening back injuries to the recovery he underwent at Jack Berry House – and is full of respect for former rider Dale Gibson who has been integral to this event’s success.

Meanwhile, Stormy Girl steps up to Group Three class in the bet365 Sceptre Fillies’ Stakes after her recent win at Pontefract provided up-and-coming trainer Rebecca Menzies with a first Listed success.

“Obviously she’s stepping up in class, but she’s every right to be there as she won quite easily at Pontefract,” said Menzies. “The ground drying out wouldn’t worry me – she is very versatile – and hopefully she’s good enough to be placed at least.”

Ghaiyyath, winner of York’s Juddmonte International, is one of 13 possibles for the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown this weekend.