The British horse racing world was recently thrown into chaos when a shutdown was enforced to try and limit the effects of an equine flu outbreak. The shutdown lasted for six days, and it put a total of 174 British racing events in lockdown. However, the British Horseracing Authority has decided to resume racing in a risk-managed manner, and so we can expect to see the horse racing calendar run its normal course soon.
This will be a huge relief to the British horse racing scene, as it was previously feared that the shutdown would threaten showpiece events like the Cheltenham Festival. But with plenty of controlled assessments of each trainers’ runners, it seems that there could be a few obstacles to overcome before the UK horse racing world is fully back to normal.
Why did the equine flu shutdown happen?
The six-day shutdown on British horse racing happened after a Newmarket laboratory discovered six outbreaks of equine flu in Donald McCain’s stables in Cheshire at the start of February 2019. Equine flu is similar to human influenza and it can lead to a high temperature which can severely affect the competitiveness of the racehorses.
What made matters all the more concerning was the fact that four vaccinated horses owned by the Newmarket-based trainer, Simon Crisford, were also found to have the affliction on the following Sunday. As a result, the British horse racing scene was brought to a standstill on 7 February, and a total of 23 UK race meetings were called off as a result of the lockdown.
These included the Denman Chase which was meant to have given punters a good chance to see this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup contender, Native River, in action. Plus classic races like the Betfair Hurdle at Newmarket had to be postponed and will now take place at Ascot.
Giving the go-ahead for the resumption of British racing
The British Horseracing Authority have given the go-ahead for British racing to resume on Wednesday 13 February. This comes after a committee of industry vets agreed that suitable precautions could be put in place to protect horses against the virus. As a result, all British trainers will have to be assessed before their chosen runners get to compete.
By doing this, it’s hoped that the UK racing scene can cope with what’s been declared to be an unprecedented amount of equine flu currently circulating across Europe. But with suitable biosecurity measures in place and plenty of risk-control mechanisms, it’s hoped that racing will eventually resume as normal.
Whilst the reports of equine flu being reported in two separate trainers yards looked like they would cause an extended shutdown, there have been no more positive results for equine flu across hundreds of samples taken from British racing stables.
As a result, punters can look forward to the resumption of two jump racing meetings at Musselburgh and Plumpton. Plus there will also be fixtures at Kempton and Southall that should hopefully illustrate that the British racing scene could soon started operating as planned.
In addition to this, the famous Ascot racecourse will host a huge weekend with no less than nine races taking place on Saturday that take in many of the rescheduled events. Whilst the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase was meant to have been taking place in Warwick, the meeting will now happen at Sandown Park, and Warwick’s Mares’ Hurdle will take place at Haydock Park. And with Exeter’s Mares’ Chase now happening in Wincanton, it looks like the British horse racing world is taking big steps to overcome this temporary trauma.
A note of caution for British racing
For a few days it seemed as though many of the UK’s most prestigious race meetings such as the Cheltenham Festival might not be happening in 2019. The Cheltenham Festival is one of the fixtures in the British horse racing calendar, and it was due to take place from 12 to 15 March.
Whilst the news that the lockdown has been lifted will provide plenty of optimism for those in the racing industry, it’s clear that the equine flu outbreak could have a number of negative effects.
The toughest challenge is the fact that all stables will now have to vaccinate their runners every six months. Previously, there was a one-year time limit for vaccinations, and the new measures will mean that the racehorses will have to take extra time off as a result of the inoculations.
In addition to this, there are reports that certain high-risk stables may be subject to extra restrictions as the British Horseracing Authority attempts to get a grip on this virulent outbreak. As a result, it looks like we might not see a full quota of the expected runners in key races in the upcoming weeks.
Memories of the foot and mouth outbreak
Ever since the nightmare of the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, the horse racing industry has been in fear of further illnesses. This saw events such as the Cheltenham Festival being cancelled which in turn cost the betting industry a staggering £100 million, whilst the festival’s insurers had to face a claim for £8 million as a result of the lost meeting.
The outbreak followed on from a five week shutdown of horse racing in 1967 where the foot and mouth epidemic devastated the UK racing scene. The recent eruption of equine flu will be especially concerning as the Australian horse betting industry was seriously affected by the virus in 2007. This took the authorities no less than six months to control the flu, and there were well over 200 race meetings cancelled by the case.
It’s not just the race meetings that can be severely tested by incidents such as this, as the whole infrastructure of the racing world could see hoteliers, restauranteurs and many more industries lose earnings. As a result, it’s hoped that the current case can be adequately controlled to provide plenty safe racing for the remainder of 2019.