Ascot and the Coronavirus – Is there a risk to the Royal Ascot Festival?
The United Kingdom has not been immune to the Coronavirus pandemic. Events such as those in horse racing, however, have been crucial in keeping spirits up in the country.
The horse racing industry, and by association the betting sector, are huge employers. It has become crucial that the sport continues and that its major festivals, of which Royal Ascot is one, are kept going in order for thousands of jobs to remain clear of risk.
Is Royal Ascot affected by the Pandemic?
This article tries to answer some major questions about Royal Ascot which takes place in the second week in June.
Last year, even when the country was in the eye of the storm so to speak, the event went ahead. No crowds were in attendance and only horsemen deemed crucial were allowed on course.
In 2020 social distancing was key among jockeys and trainers, but things may be different this time around. The 2021 Royal Ascot meeting will go ahead. There may even be a crowd allowed which would be something to see!
As part of England’s roadmap, Royal Ascot may yet have between 4,000 and 10,000 spectators in attendance. They are likely to be housed only in the Royal Enclosure and the Queen Anne Enclosure as distancing is still seen as being best practice.
Ascot crowds a huge bonus for British racing
What the Cheltenham Festival and Grand National meeting showed us is that crowd participation is crucial. While both major meetings went ahead, the lack of racegoers meant for a very flat atmosphere indeed, even for those watching at home on TV and that does not help in terms of future participation in the sport.
Having up to 10,000 people at Ascot on each day of the meeting, which runs from Tuesday 15th to Saturday 19th June, will be a massive shot in the arm for both this industry and the country as a whole.
The pandemic’s effect on UK horse racing
While the 2020 Cheltenham Festival sneaked in under the wire, other major meetings were lost. There was no Grand National, no Craven Meeting, no May meeting at Chester and many other festivals and important individual races were either cancelled, delayed or moved.
All of this had a profound effect on racing. Having been cancelled in April, no races of any type were allowed until early June. This concertina effect meant that many young horses had delayed debuts, rushed debuts or didn’t hit the track at all during the year.
Royal Ascot 2020 did go ahead, but behind closed doors in the end. Also, the situation meant there was a distinct lack of form for punters to go on which will luckily not be the case this year.
Coronavirus and the Grand National
Given the snowballing situation and the fact that the Cheltenham Festival going ahead proved to be an unpopular decision, it was no surprise when the 2020 Grand National was cancelled.
It proved to be the right decision for racing and the right decision for the country. Not many could have believed however that twelve months later, another National would be affected.
While the three-day meeting at Aintree went ahead this time, it did so with no crowds. Also, it was staged two days before high street bookmakers opened meaning a drop in revenue. Given that the National is the biggest betting event of the year, the financial effect of that cannot be underestimated.
Once more, Aintree put on a show with all social distancing and track & trace measures in place. The lack of crowd noise however was palpable. The same scenario was witnessed at Cheltenham and now it’s all eyes on Ascot to redeem the situation.
Royal Ascot and Coronavirus
Much like Aintree, we are heading for a second Royal Ascot affected by the worldwide pandemic. There will be no busy and noisy winner’s enclosure and nowhere near the usual 60,000+ crowd.
The royal meeting is unique. From a sporting point of view, it really cannot be moved. It’s position in the second half of June is crucial to the entire British pattern racing system and once again it will take its rightful place on the racing calendar.
While full crowds and no face coverings are not quite the order of the day yet, Royal Ascot 2021 looks like being responsible for horse racing taking a major step back to reality for horse racing fans, and the general public.
Is Royal Ascot 2021 Cancelled?
No. The event definitely now goes ahead. How many spectators are permitted is not confirmed as yet, but given the success of Britain’s vaccination programme there appears to now be no danger of Royal Ascot being called off.