Glorious Goodwood: Bosses give verdict on chances of festival going ahead

We’ll do our very best to save Glorious Goodwood – but it’s out of our hands.

Thursday, 23rd April 2020, 7:50 am
Glorious Goodwood is one of the sporting highlights of the summer and everyone with an interest will be hoping the lockdown is over in time for it to take place / Picture: Tommy McMillan

That’s the promise – and frank admission – from bosses at Goodwood racecourse as the coronavirus lockdown starts to eat into their season.

Goodwood has already lost its season opener, due to take place on May 2, while its three-day May Festival and Three Friday Nights fixtures will be next go if the UK lockdown does not look like being lifted soon.

As it is, the British Horseracing Authority has already said that if any race meetings are held in May in the UK they will be behind closed doors.

Goodwood bosses are talking to the BHA about how that would work in case it applies to their May Festival, due to take place from Thursday 28 to Saturday 30 and include Derby and Oaks trials.

But two months later – from Tuesday, July 28 to Saturday, August 1 – they are scheduled to stage their showpiece week of the summer, the Qatar Goodwood Festival.

And they know everyone in racing, from owners and trainers to racegoers and TV viewers, will be praying that is late enough to survive.

Goodwood’s managing director of sport Adam Waterworth said staff appreciated how highly valued Glorious was, but whether it would go ahead was in the lap of the Gods.

“Racing in this country as a whole is being looked at in stages,” he said. “The BHA have said there’ll be no racing with a crowd until the beginning of June at the earliest.

“They are in discussions with the government about when racing might resume, first without crowds and then with people allowed in.

“They are not going to seek to do anything before the government gives permission and I would not expect one sport to be treated any differently to another in terms of when it can open the doors.

“So we know our opening Saturday won’t happen and at the moment the best we can hope for is a May Festival behind closed doors. We are looking at how we could make that work.

“There are issues around how many people would be required – whether you’d allow one representative per horse for example.

“It could work for TV and betting purposes but it’s obviously not the same as a well-attended race meeting.

“We’re already thinking about the Qatar Goodwood Festival but many things need to happen and no-one knows what will happen between now and then.

“The BHA are having conversations and feeding information and guidance to all the racecourses to say what they are allowed to do.

“So as things stand we are in the hands of the BHA and the BHA is in the hands of the government.

“Our priority is to get racing on and then let people in, but all that comes when it is safe to do so. We will see racing return to normal, we just don’t know when, and can’t say when.”

The 2020 festival should be a cracker if it does go ahead. Highlights are due to include the return of festival favourites Stradivarius and Battaash for their respective fourth attempts to win the Goodwood Cup and King George Stakes.

It’s the sixth year of Qatari sponsorship of the festival, and the first year since the sponsors confirmed their involvement up to 2024.

Goodwood bosses have furloughed more than half their racecourse staff but have kept a skeleton crew in place to keep the site maintained and the business ticking over.

Racing’s waiting game is, of course, also affecting Fontwell, with their April and early May fixtures called off and two later in May currently pencilled in to go ahead behind closed doors, including the bank holiday Sunday family day which normally draws one of their biggest crowds of the year.

A BHA statement last week said: “The BHA has not set a new date for ending the suspension but plans are in place so that the sport is ready to resume as soon as is possible and appropriate in consultation with government.

“The BHA has been working with trainers, racecourses and other participants to develop a phased plan for resumption which will allow the sport to transition back to its normal fixture list later in the year.

BHA chief executive Nick Rust said: “We’ll continue to develop a range of options.”