Chester announces mass testing plans in hope of May crowds


Course has social-distancing strategy for three-day festival.

Officials at Chester are hoping a combination of mass Covid-19 testing and social-distancing measures will allow up to 5,000 racegoers to attend the Boodles May Festival.

The track announced in a statement it has developed a “sector leading mass lateral flow testing programme” upon entry for spectators at the three-day festival, with the results expected to be returned in less than 20 minutes.

The mass-venue testing could take place in three separate sites, enabling 1,800 lateral flow tests per hour to take place at the racecourse, with all attendees assigned a specific site and allocated entry time.

Chester Race Company is mapping out its strategy before the Government’s imminent announcement on the road-map out of the current lockdown, with the track having also become the first NHS large-scale coronavirus mass vaccination centre in its borough on Monday.

Racing was held behind closed doors at Chester last year
Racing was held behind closed doors at Chester last year (Tim Goode/PA)

Chief executive Richard Thomas: “We were really keen to ensure that our local area could benefit from a mass vaccination centre and are very pleased to be able to support the NHS with their essential vaccination programme.

“Meanwhile, in anticipation of the Government’s road map announcement, we have been working very hard with local authorities to build a clear operational procedure plan that hopefully could allow us to safely welcome back a limited number of spectators for the Boodles May Festival.

“The delivery of mass on-site testing is at the core of our stringent health and safety measures. Chester Racecourse could provide on-site testing facilities for 5,000 attendees per day, with results expected in less than 20 minutes

“Our overall aim is to deliver a safe, secure environment for an enjoyable three days of racing – and we hope that testing will give an added confidence to our attendees, customers, and staff, whose health and safety is of paramount importance.

“We’re proud of our innovative approach here at Chester and are keen to be one of the first venues to be able to bring crowds back safely to live sport.

“Chester is known for providing a unique race day experience for all attendees, and we have developed a number of new socially-distanced concepts which will deliver an exemplary level of safety and service – while ensuring the experience is the very best for all of our customers.”

The Chester Cup is one of the highlights of the May Festival
The Chester Cup is one of the highlights of the May Festival (Martin Rickett/PA)

If permitted, Chester would offer all racegoers table service for food and drinks, plus designated seating areas for everyone, with all-weather cover, giant screens and even personal bookmaking facilities.

Contactless order and collection points for food and drink would also be implemented across the course, with staggered arrival and departure times for guests, multiple testing areas and a one-way system in place.

Thomas added: “It will certainly be a ‘different’ racing experience this year – but it will be a very special one, with absolute attention to detail to ensure our race-goers have the best experience possible – something we pride ourselves on always delivering here at Chester Racecourse.

“We will of course be operating within all Government guidelines and hope the new experience which we are offering will be something which is welcomed by those attending – whom we hope will feel safe and secure, but also able to enjoy the best possible time at the racing.”

A socially-distanced pilot event was held at Doncaster last September
A socially-distanced pilot event was held at Doncaster last September (David Davies/PA)

Racegoers made a fleeting return to the track after the fixture list first resumed last June, with Doncaster staging a trial event at the St Leger meeting – although a planned four-day exercise was cut to just one day under a local authority ruling.

Limited crowds were then permitted under the local tiers system in December, with Cheltenham hosting up to 2,000 spectators at its December meeting and both Sandown and Aintree hosting racegoers at feature fixtures that month.

However, under current restrictions, no racegoers or owners are allowed – with the on-track presence limited to only essential personnel.

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