THIS week's raceday at Haydock Park is being hailed as 'the first stage back to normality'.

Around 800 spectators, from as far afield as North Yorkshire and Barrow, descended on the Warrington Road venue as the doors opened to racegoers on Wednesday for the first time since March.

St Helens Star:

Racing at Haydock Park without spectators during the second national Covid-19 lockdown. Picture: PA

Stepping out of the country's second Covid-19 lockdown and into Tier 2 restrictions included rules that allowed a limited number of fans to attend elite-level sport, with Haydock's 'Christmastime Raceday' event being among the first in the country to do so.

With social distancing, the wearing of facemasks, the following of one-way systems, no servings of alcohol and recurring safety messages over the tannoy system, this was not a day at the races like before.

But spectators enjoying live sport again meant a lot to those who had chosen to do so, as well as Haydock's chiefs and the racing industry as a whole after feeling the financial crunch of Covid.

Dickon White, north-west director for Jockey Club Racecourses, said: "It's a great privilege to have hosted racing yesterday.

"I'm a massive racing fan, so it means a great deal to see people back at Haydock Park.


"It was a really important day, not just for us and the Jockey Club, but also the racing industry.

"This is the first stage back to normality and you could sense the atmosphere around the course.

"The feedback was exceptional and everyone behaved impeccably."

Racing had been staged behind closed doors since its return on June 1, barring two crowd pilots at Doncaster and Warwick in September.

Ben Bramley travelled from North Yorkshire to attend and spoke of his experience.

“I don’t think they sold 1,000 tickets, which surprised me, but it’s a really good set-up, a lot less restrictive than what I thought it would be having been to a couple of other courses as an owner,” he said.

“We were effectively in the same zone as the owners, so the entire left-hand side of the paddock was accessible with good views – all the walkway from where the bookies are to the paddock was accessible.

“All the bars were open, although not selling alcohol. However, I expected a few to have the shutters down and a few buildings closed, but pretty much all buildings were open so it didn’t feel like you were somewhere you shouldn’t be."

He added: “The signage was very clear, one way up and one way down stairs, it was really impressive. They made us feel really welcome.

“The whole process was very straightforward from booking the tickets, getting the QR code – they were all really helpful, quick and slick. We had far more freedom than I anticipated.

"There were regular reminders over the PA about social distancing which you would expect.

“There were four bookies on the rails and 10 in Tatts. There might not even be that many at a normal midweek meeting. There was no segregation, so you basically had Premier Stand access.

“I wasn’t sure if there’d be a big roar at the off for the first race, but it was more of a ripple! And given the first race was basically over with a circuit to run, there wasn’t much of a cheer for the winner either, but you can’t do much about that.

“There was a quiet, sporting crowd, but there was plenty of staff working and it was a really positive day. I didn’t think I’d get a ticket to be honest, but because those in Tier 3 like Manchester couldn't go, that probably had an impact.

“The only surprise to me was not seeing anyone have their temperatures taken, but you did have to fill in an online Covid questionnaire to get a ticket, so they were trusting people.”

As for the racing itself, Adrimel continued the impressive start to his career at Haydock in the Listen To Weighed-In On Betfair “Introductory” Hurdle – but he was made to work hard for it.

Trained by Tom Lacey, the five-year-old was winning for the fourth time under Rules from just five runs, with his sole defeat coming in the Champion Bumper.

Sent off the 8-11 favourite under Richard Johnson, he had to be kept up to his work for the whole length of the Haydock straight, but with Ranch Hand and Qualismart disappointing, it was 33-1 Grumpy Charley who kept him honest.

However, Adrimel was almost five lengths clear at the line.

Elsewhere on the card, Late Romantic lived up to his name in the My Odds Boost On Betfair Veterans’ Handicap Chase.

Tristan Davidson’s 2018 Peter Marsh winner The Dutchman appeared to have done everything right, only to be caught in the dying strides by Ollie Greenall’s 10-1 chance.

The race was marred by a fatal injury to the 12-year-old Whisper, winner of the 2014 Coral Cup for Nicky Henderson as well as the Liverpool Hurdle twice.

Haydock Park has two further meetings scheduled in December, the Betway Tommy Whittle Chase Day on December 19 and the Last Fling Race Meeting on December 30.