Doncaster Racecourse has been told by local health officials to stop spectators attending its St Leger meeting after Wednesday’s opening day.
“On the grounds of public health and public safety I have instructed the course to hold the St Leger Festival behind closed doors from tomorrow,” said Dr Rupert Suckling, director of Public Health for Doncaster.
More than 2,500 spectators bought tickets for Doncaster on Wednesday as the Leger meeting started amid uncertainty over new government rules.
It was the first crowd at a British horse racing fixture in six months – since the coronavirus pandemic lockdown – as part of a government pilot scheme for sporting events.
Arena Racing Company (Arc), which runs Doncaster Racecourse, confirmed the remainder of the four-day meeting will be held without spectators. It says the decision will cost the company about £250,000.
“It’s cost a lot trying to get this right. The team have done an amazing job and I feel so sorry for them – some have only been back off furlough for two weeks,” said Mark Spincer, the managing director of Arena’s racing division.
“This isn’t just a blow for racing, it’s sport. It’s going to make it slower and harder for everyone to get back, but we have to follow the advice.”
The government said on Tuesday night that social gatherings in England would reduce from a maximum of 30 to six people from Monday in response to rising numbers of coronavirus cases.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said more details will be announced on Wednesday.
The rate of infection in Doncaster has been among the lowest in the country – and was at 10.6 per 100,000 on Wednesday.
But Doncaster mayor Ros Jones said the risk of holding the fixture with crowds was “too great” and welcomed the reversal.
“I believe holding the St Leger Festival behind closed doors is the right thing to do for the safety of the borough, given the latest change in Government’s advice overnight and the increase in infection rates both in Doncaster and nationally,” said the mayor.
“I welcome this decision and as I have said consistently that the risks were too great for Doncaster.”
Racing has been held behind closed doors since resuming on 1 June after a 10-week suspension because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Up to 3,640 people were permitted entry on Wednesday, and the racecourse says more than 2,500 tickets have been sold. A limit of 6,202 was planned on the other days, including Saturday, when the Leger – the world’s oldest Classic race – is staged.
Spectators had to sign up to a code of conduct and have been split into dedicated zones, with social distancing protocols in place.
More than 54,000 spectators attended the four-day meeting last year, including 27,000 on the Saturday.
A trial attendance of 5,000 people was due to take place on the fifth and final day of Glorious Goodwood last month, but that was scrapped at the last minute after a spike in coronavirus cases across parts of Britain.