Doncaster mayor warns horse race pilot poses a 'major risk'

Doncaster mayor warns allowing spectators to horse race meeting in pilot event is a ‘major risk’

  • St Leger Festival starts at Doncaster Racecourse starts today and ends Saturday
  • Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones has warned the racing festival poses a ‘major risk’
  • Boris Johnson will set out new lockdown measures’ effect on events later today

The Mayor of Doncaster has called for a horse racing festival to be called off as she warned allowing spectators to visit the pilot event poses a ‘major risk’. 

Around 3,500 people are expected to attend the start of the St Leger Festival at Doncaster Racecourse today, as a test to see how visitors can return to sporting events.

Amid rising coronavirus levels, there are calls for the four-day event to be postponed – particularly after the Cheltenham Festival was criticised for going ahead in March.

Labour mayor for Doncaster Ros Jones said: ‘My personal opinion remains that the festival is a major risk for the borough that I would rather not see happen but there are no current grounds that can be escalated for it to be held behind closed doors.

The St Leger Festival at Doncaster returns today under a new pilot scheme allowing spectators to watch the sport, but the town’s mayor has warned it poses a ‘major risk,’ amid rising Covid-19 cases 

Today is Legends Day at St Leger Festival, with around 3,500 expected to be in attendance. Benches have been set up alongside the course with social distancing in mind

‘This event, I reiterate, has been imposed upon the borough by government as part of a national pilot for spectators to return to sporting events.’

Asked about the pilot on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘The Prime Minister is going to set out more details of the consequences of the new rule for six people gathering later today. And we’ll set out what that means for some of these events that we were planning to do.’ 

Ms Jones added: ‘I fully recognise the need to get back to some sort of normality and appreciate the economic benefits that the St Leger Festival brings to Doncaster but I believe the risk is too great as we are seeing rising infection rates nationally.’ 

‘I urge everyone attending the St Leger Festival to follow the guidance, ensure social distancing and to keep themselves and others safe. I would also ask people to behave responsibly in and outside of the racecourse and help the festival pass successfully for the borough.’

Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones has pleaded with visitors to the horse racing festival to ‘follow the guidance, ensure social distancing and to keep themselves and others safe’

Visitors have been told they only need to wear face coverings when they enter the festival and when they head inside to use the toilet or visit a bookmakers

Since racing resumed after lockdown at Newcastle on June 1, it has been restricted first to essential staff and from early July onwards owners too.

The St Leger Festival starts with Legends Day today, followed by Ladies Day, Gentleman’s day and on Saturday, St Leger Day. 

On its website, the festival has told visitors they must wear masks when entering the event and while indoors.

It warns ‘social distancing officers,’ will be in place to ensure visitors follow new Covid-19 safety rules.

The festival has warned visitors arriving today (above) that ‘social distancing officers,’ are patrolling areas to ensure they are sticking to coronavirus rules

Doncaster Racecourse is run by Arena Racing Company, and its racing division managing director Mark Spincer said: ‘There are nerves, absolutely.

‘I think the team has done an amazing job, and we’re still finalising and tweaking things – and we’ll probably do that every day of the four.

‘But we’re set, tickets have gone out – which are all advance sales, because we’re not doing walk-ups.’

Mr Spincer acknowledged the stakes are high as the feasibility of racing crowds is put to the test on Wednesday.

He added: ‘Nobody needs to tell us how important this is – not only for Doncaster and Arena but for the industry and sport as a whole, the leisure sector and the hospitality industry need us to get this right.’

Matt Hancock, pictured last Thursday, told the BBC a conference later would set out what new lockdown measures ‘mean for some events that we were planning to do’

Director of public health for Doncaster Dr Rupert Suckling confirmed that the event is to go ahead with ‘considerable planning and public health requirements in place’.

He said: ‘I appreciate this decision is one that will divide people in Doncaster and maybe further afield given the strength of feeling of both sides of this debate.

‘However from a public health perspective, I insisted on stringent tests being met before I could be assured and confident that the event should proceed with spectators.

‘I am now assured and satisfied that the racecourse, which has been positively working with us and other partners in the borough, has put the required measures in place to ensure the festival can be as safe as it can be.

‘I will be monitoring the situation on a daily basis and will take any necessary action.’

Dr Suckling said the nationally published seven-day infection rate from September 4 is 2.6 per 100,000.

This places Doncaster at 145 out of 149 local authorities in England.

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