Race-goers set to splash cash in Newmarket again from next month
- Credit: PA
After more than a year with no horseracing spectators, Newmarket businesses could be in for a huge boost when they start to return in a month.
Like everything, in the spring of 2020 the sport of kings stopped.
On March 17 2020, the British Horseracing Authority announced all racing in the country would cease until the end of April.
That pause was extended until June 1.
But according to Michael Jefferys, mayor of Newmarket, the town did not feel that different to anywhere else in the country at this time.
"In Newmarket, if you go out at 7am the heaths are still full of horses being ridden by the stable staff," he said.
"So the town's been a continuous hive of activity even during lockdown in that respect.
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"Obviously, the high street was closed down and the lack of business there affects all the retailers, but that's true of every town in in Britain.
"It's difficult to say whether the town felt any different to normal because no-one has ever lived through a year like this past year when you get stuck in your house.
"I haven't thought to myself: 'Oh my goodness, we haven't got the crowds,' simply because it's been a disaster for our high street anyway."
Much of the sport's economic impact comes from the people it directly employs.
Steve Elsom, chairman of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce in West Suffolk, said: "It's big business.
"Racing is worth £250million a year to the regional economy.
"There are roughly 3,600 direct employees in racing. There are 76 licenced racehorse trainers in Newmarket, training around 2,500 horses."
But many businesses also rely on the 250,000 visitors to the town that horseracing generates in a typical year.
Among these is the Jockey Club, which runs Newmarket racecourse along with 15 other racecourses across the country.
A spokesman for the club said that pandemic cost them £90million in revenue over the course of 2020 - first through the complete lack of racing and then because crowds were unable to return.
Mr Elsom added that the club's losses in turn impacted the wider business community.
"There's the supply chain into the race course as well," he said.
"Local businesses who provide cleaning services, taxi services, catering services, rail and bus services, parking attendants, all the way through to the tote operators.
"No fans — that impacts on that particular supply chain into the Jockey Club."
A 2014 study found that customers at the racecourse would spend approximately £11 per head on food and beverages, in addition to travel costs, entry fees, racecards and betting.
While there are no estimates available for what race-goers spend in and around the town, their absence was felt by local businesses.
Mr Elsom said: "My businesses are being hit.
"Hotels, bars, cafes, pubs, visitor attractions — like the National Horse Racing Museum and the National Stud — were closed to the public."
Attractions like the National Horse Racing Museum are among those to have seen their visitor numbers tumble.
Anne-Marie Hogan, the museum's director, said: "With visitor numbers of 20,000 through 2019, 2020 was being targeted with achieving a sharp upwards curve of footfall and revenue, but the pandemic has made those targets quite unattainable last year."
According to Ms Hogan, despite reopening in July 2020 the two subsequent lockdowns "had a devastating impact on those plans".
But now, more than a year on, there is now light at the end of the tunnel.
The Jockey Club is expecting to welcome fans back to Newmarket for the first time on May 22, albeit in "limited" numbers.
Some businesses in the town have also received government grants to help them cover the costs of the closures and gear up for the reopening.
The National Horse Racing Museum is one of these, receiving £166,000 in Arts Council funding.
Ms Hogan said the cash would be used to try and capitalise on the "staycations effect".
The final impact of racing being behind closed doors remains to be seen, however.
Mr Elsom said: "All of racing being behind closed doors has starved the town, both from supplying the Jockey Club and also from benefitting from those 250,000 visitors that a year that will traditionally come to Newmarket.
"It will only be once the national health protocols have accepted that we can allow crowds back into racing that we'll see what the fallout has been."