“At the moment, we’re working on plans A to about W,” Adam Waterworth, Goodwood’s managing director, said on Thursday, 12 days before the start of the track’s biggest meeting of the year. “It’s almost harder to stage an event with nobody here than it is in a normal year with thousands of people.
“It’s working up multiple plans all at once that really takes the time but you’ve got to do it if you’re going to be ready and next week is when we’ll need to know which plan we need to deliver.”
Whichever plan it turns out to be, a key element for racing fans – and, for that matter, fans of many other sports too – will be whether it includes a paying audience at a major sporting event for the first time since March.
Goodwood has made little secret of its belief that it would be an ideal venue to trial a limited return of spectators to the racecourse. It has just over 4,000 annual members and would not need to open the gates to anyone else. The overwhelming majority would also be likely to drive to the course, which is on top of a hill in open countryside, three miles from the nearest town.
All they need now is the nod from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which is weighing up the options for when and how spectators will return.
As Waterworth points out, open-air theatres are now welcoming back socially-distanced theatregoers, while open-air music festivals are also now permitted with limited audiences.
“If we were expecting to be able to open the gates and have a normal paying crowd, we’re already tight against it to pull that off,” he says, “but that’s not what we’re after. We’re looking at allowing our annual members to the trial and to show that we can do it safely, and we have all their details and the ability to communicate with them pretty quickly if we need to.
“The track and trace element is one of the key parts of this, in terms of knowing exactly who it is that is on site. That takes time to set up and we will need an element of time.”
Goodwood also has an advantage, however, in that some non-racecourse hospitality areas, including a hotel, on what is one of the largest private estates in the country are already back open for business. “They are operating now within the guidelines that the hospitality industry has to sign up to,” Waterworth says. “If somebody in a restaurant then turned out to be ill, you can provide that kind of data [on who else is present] albeit on a larger scale.”
The grim financial realities of racing behind closed doors were underlined last week when York disclosed that around 80% of its annual revenue comes from attendance at racing or other events at the track.
“All the large courses are in exactly the same boat,” Waterworth says. “Our business models are based around people and crowds. Our sponsorship is reliant on that as well and at the minute, the taps have been turned off entirely.
“I’m not expecting to get back to normal any time soon, but to be able to allow some movement [on spectators] would be a huge step in the right direction. Some light at the end of the tunnel would be welcome for all of us.”
The economic pressures facing all parts of the racing industry as a result of the coronavirus pandemic were also highlighted on Thursday when Group-race winning trainer Ed Vaughan said that he will close down his operation later in the year.
Vaughan was an assistant to Noel Chance, Charlie Mann and Alec Stewart before taking out a licence after Stewart’s death in 2004. His first Group race success came with Robin Hoods bay in the Winter Derby at Lingfield in 2014 while only last week, he recorded one of the biggest wins of his career when Dame Malliot and Hollie Doyle took the Group Two Princess of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket.
“I haven’t just woken up and decided to do this,” Vaughan said in a statement on his website. “It’s been on my mind for a while and now seems the right time to finish up training here in the UK.
“As everyone is aware, with the reductions in prize-money and the cost of running a business being so high, the economics of training in Britain are not good. I’m taking this decision now because I can see things getting worse in the next year.”