RACING TRENDS: Sport shut down by flu outbreak

Racing Trends with Tony McCormick
Racing Trends with Tony McCormick

You will probably be aware of the Equine Flu outbreak that has hit the racing world with devastating effect.

The Racing Post reported on Thursday ‘An outbreak of equine flu forced racing into a dramatic six-day shutdown to blow the biggest hole in the sport's programme since the foot-and-mouth crisis that put paid to the Cheltenham Festival in 2001.

Racing will not commence in Britain until next Wednesday at the earliest and a lockdown of more than 100 yards was enforced on Thursday as British racing's governing body took emergency measures to try to ensure the highly contagious virus does not spread.’

So what does this mean for racing in the next couple of months?

I asked my Talksport2 colleague, racing presenter Lee McKenzie.

Lee told me about the initial outbreak: "The initial outbreak only affected three horses from one stable. If it can be contained quickly it could be over in a matter of days. If it is discovered in other places that would be much more serious."

I asked Lee how different this outbreak was compared to the Foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 which brought a halt to the Cheltenham festival that year. Lee told me, "Only time will tell, but equine flu is highly contagious and it can affect all horses, not just those who race. The biggest worry is how three racehorses were found to be carrying the virus despite being vaccinated against it."

I then asked Lee how serious this could be for this year’s festival. "Fortunately the Festival is still a month away, but many of the main contenders are due to have their final prep runs in the next week or so, and if any meetings are cancelled they may have to go to Cheltenham without a recent run."

Donald McCain, the trainer at the center of the equine flu scare that wiped out racing in Britain, acted immediately to contact the authorities after horses tested positive.

He revealed he had been concerned about the health of a few of his string for a "couple of days" and his prompt action was praised by the BHA.

The BHA’s chief executive Nick Rust to ITV’s GMTV on Friday morning, “By Monday we’ll be in a strong position to make a definitive decision about when racing will return. I don’t know whether we’ll need a few more days or not but I strongly believe this will be for a few weeks at most because we’ve acted quickly.

“We’ve got to get a hold of the situation swiftly – if we play Russian roulette with the evidence we’ve got we could have a problem for three to six months and no-one would thank us for that.

“This is a serious form of flu that debilitates horses, who are at the centre of our sport. The welfare of our horses is really paramount above all economics.

“Our worst fears are that we don’t contain it quickly, but by taking the action we have in the last couple of days we’re effectively locking down movement of racehorses and instructing trainers to take extra special precautions.

“We’re fairly confident that with swift action we will manage to restrict it, but until we know the full extent of the distribution of the virus, we won’t know where we are.”

Personally I believe the BHA have acted quickly and diligently handling the affair swiftly.

People outside racing who usually have a punt on the Grand National once a year have noted how fast the sport has closed ranks and shutdown immediately without a hint of objection.

What is Equine Influenza?

Equine influenza, sometimes referred to as equine flu or horse flu, is a highly contagious respiratory infection. An infected horse will show clinical signs similar to those of human flu and will be infectious for about a week. Tens of thousands of horses can be affected by one outbreak. Although rarely fatal, it can have a huge impact on competition and breeding due to restriction of horse movements.