scot insisted on Thursday it has not given up hope of welcoming a crowd to its Champions Day fixture on 17 October, despite a huge cut in the prize fund for the most valuable afternoon of racing in the British calendar.
Last year’s £4.2m in prize money over six races, including four Group Ones, will drop by 40% to £2.5m, with the purse for the Champion Stakes, Britain’s richest race, cut from £1.3m to £750,000.
A £1.7m cut to the Champion Day prize fund would have seemed unthinkable 12 months ago but it is proportionally lower than the reductions at other major race meetings since the sport resumed behind closed doors on 1 June. Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood have already been run with a 50% cut on their 2019 prize money, while York’s Ebor meeting later this month will have a similar reduction.
Ascot would normally expect to make around 70% of its annual turnover, which reached £91m in 2018, from ticket sales, hospitality, on-course betting and other purchases by more than 550,000 racegoers each year. Champions Day, which is an “industry” day separate from the remainder of Ascot’s schedule, would usually be a 30,000 sellout and even a fraction of its normal paying attendance would be seen as a significant boost before jumping, which would normally draw around 15,000 to the course for a big Saturday meeting, returns to Ascot from November.
“We definitely haven’t given up,” Nick Smith, Ascot’s director of racing and communications, said, “and like everyone else, we are hoping the stated aspiration for crowds in some form will be possible from 1 October.
“There is, of course, no certainty of that. The prize money cut is far lower than for any other meeting to date as a percentage of 2019, so we’d regard that as a huge positive all round especially for connections, who can now plan with confidence for very high prize money by British standards in any context.”
Plans to start readmitting spectators to sporting events suffered a significant setback last week when the government suspended a programme of trial events just 24 hours before Goodwood was due to welcome around 5,000 annual members to the final day of Glorious Goodwood.
All racecourses will require major investments of time, money and effort to enable social distancing and minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19 when spectators return. Doncaster has said that it hopes to be part of a pilot scheme during its St Leger meeting next month, while Jockey Club Racecourses has suggested that Sandown Park, Haydock and Newmarket could be possible venues for trials with spectators from late August onwards.
Ascot, though, is generally acknowledged to be Britain’s premier course and is also the best attended, accounting for around 10% of all days at the races annually. When, or if, racegoers return at Ascot in 2020, the sport may finally start to believe it is inching away from the worst depths of the crisis.
The British Horseracing Authority distributed its latest update on the resumption of racing on Thursday, emphasising to all participants it remains essential to respect the strict protocols for racing behind closed doors.
The update arrived as Gary Moore became the first British trainer to be fined for a breach of the rules to ensure social distancing. Moore was fined £750 for repeatedly moving between restricted zones at Goodwood last Thursday, on an afternoon when he saddled the 50-1 shot Junkanoo to win the second race of the day.
Moore partially admitted the charge but told the disciplinary his breach of the rules had not been intentional.
In a statement, the trainer said: “I watched my horse [Junkanoo] run and I was standing on the steps of the March Grandstand. After my horses had run, I was told I should not have been there. I accepted that and did not go back to the area again.
“If there were signs, I was not aware of them. I had two runners in the race and was focusing on my runners. If I was in the wrong place, it was not intentional or deliberate, it is simply where I always go to watch racing.
“There were ropes everywhere and it was quite confusing as to which side of the ropes one should be. I was certainly not attempting to be where I should not be.”