Racing’s flu-related nightmare appears to be almost over, following the news on Monday night that the sport will be allowed to resume on Wednesday, when the four scheduled race meetings will take place under enhanced biosecurity measures. In a surprisingly detailed statement the British Horseracing Authority also announced the rescheduling of several important jumps races lost last weekend, including the Betfair Hurdle and the Denman Chase.
Those two races, wiped out along with the rest of a valuable card at Newbury, will now be run at Ascot on Saturday. “It’s very good news for all,” said the leading jumps trainer Paul Nicholls, who confirmed he plans to run Clan Des Obeaux in the Denman as a final prep run for the Cheltenham Gold Cup next month. Warwick’s Kingmaker Chase will be salvaged and form part of Sandown’s Friday card.
The BHA had taken a cautious approach to the revelation last Wednesday that equine influenza had infected vaccinated racehorses at the Cheshire stable of Donald McCain, moving swiftly to suspend racing to assess the extent of the problem and reduce the risk of it spreading rapidly.
When more cases were found on Sunday night in the Newmarket stable of Simon Crisford, there were fears that officials might persist with a conservative approach and delay a resumption for another week.
But the BHA’s team of veterinary advisers were unanimous in concluding that the sport could now open its doors, subject to certain risk management.
Brant Dunshea, the BHA’s chief regulatory officer, said: “After analysis of thousands of samples, and no further positive tests on Monday, we still have only two confirmed sites of infection. We have put robust containment measures in place around both. From the testing and analysis conducted the disease appears to be contained at present.”
However, there could be a sting in the tail for some trainers, as not all stables will be allowed to send runners to the track immediately. The BHA said it was categorising stables according to the risk of infection to which they had been exposed and hoped to have the list finalised by this morning. “The ability of runners to return to racing from those yards will depend on the risk categories the yards are placed in,” the statement said.
For the time being the BHA will allow entries from only horses that have received a flu vaccination within the past six months. This could also be a stumbling block for some trainers, who have a policy of doing their vaccinations once a year in the summer. The trainer Brendan Powell tweeted: “Vets going to be extremely busy tomorrow with trainers wanting flu vacs done!”
David Sykes, the BHA’s director of equine welfare, promised increased scrutiny at tracks. “We will observe closely those horses who are taken to the racecourse,” he said, “and will intervene as a precaution to prevent a horse running or accessing a racecourse if we believe it might put other horses at risk of infection.
“The veterinary committee are of the view that an unprecedented amount of this disease has been identified in Europe. This is not a typical endemic period and it was essential that precautions be taken to protect the horse population.”
Another avenue for British trainers opened up on Monday when the Irish regulator lifted its ban on British-based runners, “provided that the horses comply with the IHRB requirements”. Irish racing introduced a new rule on Friday requiring all runners to have had a vaccine for the particular strain of flu now in circulation and insisting that they must have done so within the previous eight weeks as a condition of being allowed to race. Enhanced biosecurity measures are in place and any horses showing any signs of respiratory disease will be turned away at the racecourse.
Two Irish stables have been under lockdown recently, after horses tested positive for EI, it emerged on Monday. The trainers involved have not been named by the authorities in order to encourage other trainers to come forward if they fear they may have EI cases on their premises.
One of the two stables is once more sending runners to the track, tests from its horses having shown that the disease is no longer present. The other remains in quarantine until such time as swabs from its horses also test clear.