Racecourse faces six-figure loss

Wetherby officials fear they will make a “significant six-figure loss” as the new National Hunt season started behind closed doors yesterday.
Wetherby racecourse Chief executive Jonjo Sanderson. Picture Tony JohnsonWetherby racecourse Chief executive Jonjo Sanderson. Picture Tony Johnson
Wetherby racecourse Chief executive Jonjo Sanderson. Picture Tony Johnson

The absence of crowds means the course, alongside sponsors bet365, are pumping more of their own money into feature races like the Charlie Hall Chase on October 31.

But the one glimmer of hope, says chief executive Jonjo Sanderson, is the number of horses declared for this week’s season-opening fixture.

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And the key, he says, is whether the competitiveness of the eight-race card boosts betting turnover and, in turn, feeds back into the sport’s coffers.

With only stabling for 91 horses, 17 of the 108 declarations had to be balloted out and Sanderson says the only previous year this meeting was over-subscribed came in 2008 when he took over the running of the track.

Wetherby hosted the last race meeting in March before Britain went into lockdown.

For this week’s meeting Mr Sanderson said only around 120 owners were present to watch the racing at the A1M course.

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He said the racecourse’s budget for the 2020-21 season is based on a number of assumptions.

“We have no idea how our jump fixtures are going to perform from a betting perspective - or on a watch and bet’ basis through our media rights contracts,“ he said.

“We don’t know whether crowds are going to return or not, though our forecasts are based on a zero crowd. It is a significant six-figure loss. There are no surprises in that and we are not alone in that.

“We are taking a pessimistic view, and hope things improve, and we are trying to do things where we can, but it’s not an ideal place to be.”

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Up to 30 per cent of Wetherby’s annual attendance derives from two meetings - Charlie Hall Chase day, which usually features some of the country’s top steeplechasers making their seasonal bow, and the traditional Boxing Day meeting.

Sanderson believes a vaccine for Covid, or new developments in testing, are essential for spectators to return in any significant numbers.

“We would like to get crowds back but we don’t know how easy it is going to be with these restrictions,“ he added.

“We are in the hands of the Government.”