Authorities still hopeful of 20,000 on Arc day despite crowd limit extension

A French government decision to prolong the limit of 5,000 people allowed to gather in one place until the end of October has made the prospect of a recognisable Arc day at Longchamp more difficult, though "all is not lost" according to France Galop chief executive Olivier Delloye. 

But he warned that if Longchamp is not granted special leave to exceed that number, then Enable's bid for a third Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe will be run in front of only owners, trainers, stable staff and journalists, rather than a paying public. 

"An Arc of 5,000 is in reality racing professionals and the media," said Delloye. "There wouldn't be any general public. It is what we had hoped for ahead of the Prix du Jockey Club and Prix de Diane meeting in July, which ultimately was run behind closed doors."

France's prime minister Jean Castex made an announcement on Monday that the ban on public gatherings of more than 5,000 – which had been due to expire as early as this Saturday – would be extended in the wake of increasing evidence that the country's fight to control the spread of Covid-19 may be entering a new phase. 

But he held out hope for organisers of bigger events, saying: "The Council [of National Defence] has also decided to extend until October 30 the ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people, though with the possibility for prefects [of police] to grant exemptions if they can be satisfied of strict adherence to sanitary protocols."

The delayed Kentucky Derby on September 5 is another major global race meeting set to limit the number in attendance, with a 60 per cent fall in the number of tickets on offer. 

In the region of 24,000 will be on sale at Churchill Downs after the race was pushed back from its original date on May 2 following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in the USA. 

Churchill Downs president Kevin Flannery said: "We will have fewer guests at this year’s Derby as reducing the size of the crowd is an important step to ensuring a safe environment."

France Galop has elected to keep the online ticketing site open for bookings, mostly to aid the organisation in assessing the number of people Longchamp will host should the Paris prefecture grant them its wish of an Arc day crowd of 15-20,000 people.

If that hope – which already represents a significant cut to last year's Sunday attendance – is not realised, all tickets will be reimbursed.  

"There is still a window of opportunity for us to stage an Arc with more than 5,000 people," said Delloye on Tuesday. "That option has been offered to local authorities and we will certainly be seizing that opportunity in a responsible manner. 

"We are building a very solid and detailed dossier to try to have a day with many more people than 5,000. We firmly believe we could organise an Arc de Triomphe with at least 15,000 people and fully respect the rules designed to prevent contagion. 

"Our job is to continue putting that plan together and then to try to convince the Paris police prefecture to follow along with the project."

Delloye said that, while French racing's success in getting people to adhere to the mandatory wearing of masks was a point in their favour, he did not expect the Arc to gain special treatment compared to other major events during the same period such as the French Open tennis at nearby Roland Garros.  

"We have demonstrated already that we can organise racing both behind closed doors and with a 5,000-person limit and follow the rules, with the universal wearing of masks," Delloye said. "That adds to our credibility.

"But if you look at the government decrees issued in recent months, racing has been grouped with other sports and we haven't benefited from special treatment. So I don't really believe you could see a situation where we stage an Arc of 15-20,000 people and Roland Garros is limited to 5,000.

"I don't believe the situation has changed much compared to before yesterday's speech," said Delloye. "Nevertheless I would interpret the announcement as making the task of obtaining an exemption a little bit more difficult. 

"If the date for that limit of 5,000 has been pushed back, that speaks to an increased vigilance and a greater concern that we might be at the dawn of a second wave. So I expect negotiations to be more challenging in trying to pursue the case for an exemption than might have been the case two or three weeks ago.

"I wouldn't say the signs are really positive but all is not lost."