It was all going so well at Donny
The Secret Racegoer gets through the trials of online ordering to enjoy a brief return to the races at Donny
The Secret Racegoer doesn’t have a great track record with online ordering, witness the recent arrival of six gravy boats from John Lewis instead of six dinner plates.
It soon seemed that getting hold of a ticket online for day one of Doncaster’s pilot of admitting racegoers to the St Leger meeting was going to have its challenges.
Donny was having problems with its website, it crashed, and the sale of the first tranche of tickets was put back an hour. At the second attempt and after much screen refreshing, the Secret Racegoer was in.
A ticket was lined up and all that remained was payment. And that was the next issue. Every time the Secret Racegoer tried to confirm payment, the track’s website failed to complete the process – or so it seemed.
Finally, Lloyds Bank successfully handed the matter back to Doncaster Racecourse and an order confirmation with booking reference appeared.
Then the Secret Racegoer looked his online bank statement – it showed five payments to Doncaster Racecourse.
A telephone conversation with a nice lady at Doncaster and four payments were refunded the next day, and she confirmed one ticket was definitely secured and the Secret Racegoer could go ahead and book his train tickets.
Transport was booked – the right trains on the right day,
Doncaster had set aside two areas for racegoers, one zone was on the stands’ side of the track beyond the winning post, the other on the infield.
The Secret Racegoer was told his ticket was for the infield area, and not where he thought he’d booked. But it turned out to be the better of the two options. Later, mutterings were heard that people on the stands’ side couldn’t see the horses, positioned as they were on the bend after the winning post, looking head-on down the track.
Over on the infield, an area alongside the last half-furlong of the straight, racegoers could see up the track, watch level with the winning post and look across to the parade ring.
On arrival, racegoers were checked against a customer list, briefed on the not too draconian rules, and taken to their designated table in a designated bay in an open sided marquee.
Any refreshments required had to be booked through an app and served at the table. In the case of the Secret Racegoer, who got the hang of the online ordering quite quickly, there followed a pint or more of excellent Shipyard IPA. He could quite easily get used to at-table service and, indeed, he did.
Once people had got the hang of the one-way system, not being allowed to shout, and having to wear a mask at all times, apart from when consuming a pint of IPA, there was a happy mood, with everyone glad to be back at the races.
Some were caught out by the absence of racecards and a copy of the Racing Post was a valuable commodity.
Pints of IPA continued to be served and at one point a member of the bar staff came over to check that that all was well with the app as someone said the customer at bay seven, table 12 was having problems with online ordering. The Secret Racegoer said all was good.
Three bookmakers stood on the lawns and one, Chris Johnson, said business “was better than we’d hoped.” With winners at 6/1, 8/1, 18/1 and 33/1 it shouldn’t have been too shabby a day.
But after the first, news filtered through that a spike in the area’s coronavirus cases meant that this was to be the one and only day where Donny could admit a limited number of spectators.
At the same time the government were announcing restrictions on how many people could gather in one place. The mood changed, particularly among those who had planned to attend more than one day’s racing.
But it wasn’t a government decision which scuppered Doncaster’s pilot, but the local director of public health, Dr Suckling, who said somewhat dictatorially that he’d “instructed” the racecourse to abandon its pilot scheme after one day.
Doncaster racecourse deserved better for their enterprise and apparent meticulous attention to detail. They are now going to be £250,000 down for their efforts.
Indeed, with the rules in place, applied with a light touch if, for example, one forgot to wear their facemask, and social distancing observed, racegoers in their zones seemed to be well out of harm’s way.
With a sunny, if very windy day, which constantly blew over chairs – the closest it seemed to anyone being in danger – people were back at the races, albeit briefly.
Before heading back to Doncaster station, the Secret Racegoer craved a pint of Guinness. In a small town-centre pub it was back to online ordering and, after waiting more than 10 minutes, he chased after the drink. “Sorry”, said a member of the bar staff, “sometimes it doesn’t print out the orders.”
The bar team then tried to split a group of eight uncooperative people into smaller numbers at separate tables. Dr Suckling would have “instructed” them to leave immediately.
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