As racing returned behind closed doors at Newcastle on Monday, Arena Racing Company Chief Executive Martin Cruddace spoke of his delight at the sport’s resumption but sounded a warning at the prospect of crowds returning to tracks.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the country, Cruddace and his team at ARC are only too aware of the impact that no spectators will have on business. Lockdown restrictions in England were loosened this week but there is no clear indication of when the public might be able to return to watch live sporting events.

He said: “We’ve assumed no attendance income until the end of the year. It’s tens and tens of millions of pounds in lost attendance income across the industry. The six weeks of no racing and the lack of attendance income and media rights was bad.

“When you have a ticket that’s £30 and 30,000 tickets, it starts to get extremely expensive for racecourses and I think it will take some time to recover, at least towards the back-end of next year.

“If I’m really optimistic, I would say the beginning of September in some way, shape or form with reduced crowds. We would have to look very carefully at inside bars. What we do know is that the risk of infection spreading outdoors is a lot less than if you are indoors. If I’m pessimistic, it’s the end of the year.

“I hope we will be able to take this year, put it into a box and then next year pick up where we left off. We are very fortunate that we have very loyal and supportive shareholders that are with us for the long term.”

The planning for Newcastle to host the first meeting since mid-March began around nine weeks ago. The track converted an area in one of its stands to accommodate the 40 jockeys in action, with partitions spaced at two metres apart.

Other measures at the track on Monday included the checking of attendees’ temperatures on arrival, a one-way entry system, an online course that had to be taken prior to the fixture and adhering to social distancing protocols.

Cruddace added: “All our preparations were for serious protocols that we would have to follow when racing came back and it’s been eight or nine weeks in the making. What we did know was that Newcastle and/or Lingfield would be first up.

“We had the foresight to realise that would be the case and therefore our planning was for social distancing. I think we were the first racecourse to put the jockey partitions up because we knew it would be asked for.

“It’s been a nine-week labour of love by the teams and so far, it’s going very well. The BHA and RCA have been working with us and what we learn from today will be shared with other racecourses.”

On the significance of the sport making a long-awaited return, Cruddace said: “It’s great that we’re able to lead the charge of British horseracing alongside the good work of the BHA.

“It isn’t just about us. It’s about our employees and the 20,000 people that depend on the ecosystem of British horseracing as well. It’s absolutely vital to the confidence of owners, who have been amazingly patient throughout all of this, and amazingly loyal from everything I’ve heard.”