Under normal circumstances the announcement that 5,000 racegoers were expected to attend the Saturday of the Glorious Goodwood Festival would represent a complete disaster. It’s a smaller crowd than the venue hosted for any day’s racing last year and less than a fifth of the number they’d ordinarily expect for the climax of their sumptuous Summer racing party.
But these aren’t normal circumstances and the proposed crowd will be the largest to gather on a racecourse since just over 8,000 people visited Uttoxeter on 14th March. The conditions of entry will be strictly controlled for this one-off trial, which will be used as an opportunity to test Covid-safety protocols that can be rolled out at other events later in the year.
All the guinea pigs, most of whom will be Goodwood annual members, will be asked to acknowledge an agreed code of conduct that will set out expectations regarding behaviour, procedures for maintaining hygiene and social distancing. Only a proportion of the racecourse’s facilities will be available, as the raceday service will be adapted to accommodate more space for each visitor.
The trend in the last twenty years has been a movement towards a more cosseted raceday environment, one which is going to be more difficult to offer to large numbers of people. Many modern racegoers enjoy sitting down for a drink on a comfy chair, located in a warm bar, from where they can watch the racing action on a large screen. I’m obviously not talking, here, about most Kelso racegoers – whose favourite haunt is the Chicken Hutch bar, a corrugated iron hut where the ventilation system requires no electronical engineering.
Secretly, I’m looking forward to a return to simpler ways, even if it turns out to be a temporary arrangement. I’m nostalgic for the days when it wasn’t possible to see what was happening in a race unless you had a decent pair of binoculars. There is something about the way your hands shake, when the field enters the top of the final straight, that makes the runners look as though they’re travelling faster.
Fortunately, for anyone who doesn’t already have their own binoculars, there’s an opportunity to secure forty-two pairs in the Brown & Turner auction in Jedburgh on Saturday. The guide-price for Lots 125 – 134 suggests they could be secured for as little as £8 each (but ignore Lots 131 and 132 unless you’re also after a miscellaneous collection of wooden caskets and a pewter tankard too).
Nothing is so frustrating on the circuit between parade ring, bookies, track and winners’ enclosure as that chance encounter with a well-intentioned person who offers you a drink – causing you to miss the sight of your favourite horse, the chance to back yet another loser or both (this week’s selection is What’s The Story in the John Smith’s Cup at York). I don’t mean to sound antisocial, but the wearing of masks will represent a breath of fresh air for many racing enthusiasts: the chance to walk about incognito and enjoy the racing in peace.
Many National Hunt fans tell me that their favourite fixtures are the quiet ones. Don’t tell too many people, but I think maybe we’re about to enter a golden spell.