Equine influenza has rocked the horse racing world over the last 24 hours, with the biggest lockdown since foot and mouth at the turn of the millennium.
Races up and down the UK have been postponed until at least Wednesday, February 13, following three horses being diagnosed by flu, casting real doubt on the Cheltenham Festival in just a few weeks time.
The British Horse Racing Authority initiated the lockdown after finding the illness in horses from the Donald McCain stable, who had riders at both Ayr and Ludlow, and it it has spread could be disastrous for the industry.
So far, the cancellations, which affect 23 races in all, have already thought to have cost the industry £20million, and should it lead to the postponement of Cheltenham on March 12, that figure would comfortably enter the hundreds of millions.
Will Equine Flu Affect Cheltenham?
Of course, the question on many punters lips will be asking whether equine flu will affect Cheltenham.
Currently, there’s no suggestion the Cheltenham Festival won’t go ahead, although that will depend on what the tests bring back on the horses who could have been cross-contaminated.
It’s thought around 110 horses across over 100 stables will be tested to see whether equine flu has spread, with the results set to deliver a decision on whether Wednesday’s racing can go ahead early next week.
With many of the Festival’s favourites expected to race this weekend, however, it will undoubtedly disrupt preparations of trainers, jockeys and horses across the country.
That could seriously alter the odds for the festival, with some horses now not able to race ahead of the biggest week in the sport.
It’s a key period for trainers, many of which look to give their hopefuls one final run out before resting up to the festival and taking days away from training to be tested will also put a halt on preparations, particularly if the flu has been contracted elsewhere.
That would be disastrous for horse racing.
What The BHA Are Saying
The British Horseracing Authority has yet to look beyond next Wednesday in terms of how the outbreak could affect Cheltenham, with testing due to take place on Friday (8 February) and a decision on whether racing can continue beyond 13 February coming on Monday 11.
Until then, everything else is pure speculation, with the BHA releasing the following statement:
“The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has this afternoon taken the decision that racing will not resume in Britain until Wednesday 13 February at the earliest, including fixtures programmed by the Point-to-Point Authority.
The BHA’s veterinary team has today been in contact with more than 50 trainers and veterinarians to allow it to make an informed assessment of the risk of equine influenza spreading. Whilst no further positive tests have been received, at least three more days are required before it will be possible to make a decision about whether it is safe to resume racing.
The disease can take up to three days before symptoms are visible, meaning it will take until Sunday at the earliest before the BHA can gather all the information required. This approach will allow samples to be collected and assessed by the Animal Health Trust in order that a fully informed decision can be made on Monday. This may then allow declarations to take place on Tuesday in time for racing on Wednesday, with 24 hour declarations for all fixtures on this day, should racing be able to resume. Declarations for Thursday would revert to the usual procedures.
We are grateful to trainers and veterinarians for the rapid flow of information and feedback we have received today. Because of this, we have been able to make an informed decision earlier than we expected and before we have any test results back from horses from the affected yards that travelled to the three meetings.
Trainers support a precautionary approach and we thank them for the collaborative manner in which they have worked with us to address this unfolding situation.
This precautionary approach is intended to ensure we put the health of the horse population and control of the virus first, and avoid any unnecessary risk that might come from returning to racing too quickly. We appreciate the impact that this may have on the sport commercially, but disease control in order to mitigate the risk of further disruption to the sport – and safeguard the health and welfare of our horses – must be a priority.
A plan will be constructed for the rescheduling of key races – and those which may provide important opportunities for horses to run – which are lost during this period,
Separately, as a precaution, all of the trainers who had runners at the fixtures at Wolverhampton, Ludlow and Ayr this week have been informed that their yards have been placed under a temporary hold which means that they will not be able to make any declarations until their horses have been tested and cleared.”