HORSE RACING

JUNE 21 2007 13:21h

Royal Ascot Plays Down Attendance Fall

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Royal Ascot officials have played down a large drop in attendance on the first two days of the meeting.

The 40,000 crowd on Tuesday was more than 14,000 down on 2006 and on Wednesday there was a 9,000 drop compared with the previous year.

But Thursday, traditionally Ladies' Day when the Gold Cup is run, has long been a 70,000 sell-out and the course executive hopes figures for the final two days on Friday and Saturday will remain robust.

Course spokesman Nick Smith told the Racing Post that ticket sales overall were down but it was not a shock.

He said: "We have been saying they are going to be down for ages but the disappointment was over a long time ago and financially it balances out better than people expect because of the amount of additional catering we are doing and the amount of additional spend racegoers pass over because they are enjoying themselves."

Ascot now has 263 private boxes, ranging from 10 to 40 seats, with the most expensive on Gold Cup day costing about 50,000 pounds ($99,600) -- excluding catering.

Total attendance of over 312,000 was high in 2006 when people came to see the new Ascot after a 200 million pounds redevelopment.

But there were complaints about overcrowding and officials had to spend another 10 million pounds, especially on restoring sight-lines from the lower levels of the stands.

Suggestions have been made in the media that this time round some race fans, disappointed in 2006, may be voting with their feet and watching on TV which covers all five days.