Robin Oakley

Racing badly needs the full relaxation of restrictions

It was a joy to be back on a racecourse, but without the crowds the buzz was muted

A future star emerged at Goodwood: pocket rocket Silvestre de Sousa rides to victory on two-year-old Flotus in the Maiden Fillies' Stakes [Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images]

Humans are herd animals too. Jockeys, trainers, owners and those enjoying the few prized media attendance slots for racing behind closed doors have agreed that without the crowds it simply hasn’t been the same experience. TV coverage of racing is first class going on brilliant and has provided vital information and entertainment through lockdown, but we in the racing tribe need to be regularly on the course, rubbing shoulders with the like-minded: ‘Did you see what that one did last time at Newbury? Why isn’t X riding his regular stable’s two-year-old here?’

After my Goodwood member friend Derek Sinclair invited me to be his guest on the first Saturday on which racing welcomed back partial crowds, I counted down the days like a stocking-hungry child approaching Christmas. Racing at Goodwood on a fine day is the closest thing you get this side of the Pearly Gates to a peek at heaven and the reminders were there. Something quickened in the blood with the drumming of hooves on rain-softened grass, the equine victors tossing their heads and stamping their feet with pride as their steaming bodies were doused with water buckets, the parade-ring chitchat between riders and the stable staff helping them into the saddle.

I counted down the days until my return to the race course like a child approaching Christmas

Of course in these Covid-emergent days, with courses still restricted to crowds of 4,000 or 50 per cent of capacity, there were restrictions on the availability of bars and restaurants but Goodwood had devised a sensible one-way system allowing circulatory access to Tote, betting office, refreshments and lavatories. Smiling staff were widely available for guidance. It was a forgotten but very real pleasure after months of soulless online betting to pick up winnings in crisp sanitised notes (only, alas, from the first race and Irish 2,000 Guineas; with the other six losers, I was unusually happy to make my contribution to the racing economy).

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