The British Horseracing Authority has announced news that has rocked the industry: an outbreak of equine flu has caused horse racing to grind to a halt until February 13th.
The idea is to put the health of the horses at the forefront of proceedings and avoid the possibility of the flu spreading any further, but there’s no question that it will impact the industry in a big way.
Casual horse racing fans might find themselves feeling rather annoyed at proceedings, but those in the know are aware of just how serious equine flu can be. It’s not the sort of thing worth taking any risks over, having the ability to spread from horse to horse and being similar in impact to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that saw race meetings cancelled across the board in 2001. Here’s a look at what’s happened and what it means.
Horses From Bankhouse Stables Show Signs Of Flu
The trainer at Bankhouse Stables, Donald McCain, confirmed in a statement released via the National Trainers Federation that he had been concerned about the health of some of the horses under his control. On the back of news that there had been cases of equine flu in Europe McCain asked his veterinary surgeon to examine his horses on a regular basis.
Part of that included doing tests and it was during this period of testing that it emerged that three of the horses from Bankhouse Stables tested positive for equine flu. As soon as it was confirmed the stables contacted the British Horseracing Authority and plans were put in place to ensure that all available advice was followed.
Bankhouse work hard to avoid a scenario such as this, checking bloods of their horses regularly and keeping new horses separate when they arrive at the stables as much as they can.
Why Horse Flu Is Causing Such Panic
Those that don’t know much about equine flu might find themselves wondering about why the news that three horses have it is causing such a sense of panic.
There are a number of reasons why the industry is in a bit of a panic over it, not least of which is the fact that all three of the infected horses had been vaccinated against the illness. The fact that they’ve caught it in spite of being vaccinated is suggestive of the flu being a different strand, leading to many tin the industry being concerned that it could spread quickly whether horses have received the vaccination or not.
The other reason for the concern comes from the fact that horses from McCain’s yard had raced at Ludlow, Wolverhampton and Ayr before equine flu had been confirmed. The problem is that there’s no way to know immediately whether horses have the illness, given that the incubation period is up to three days.
It means that the horses from Bankhouse that raced in the 3 venues could have had the illness but not known at the time, spreading it to other horses and having them take it back to their own stables and passing it on to other horses there. Quarantine ans security measures have now been put in place, but it could be too late to stop the disease spreading.
What Happens Next
As soon as the BHA discovered the information that 3 horses from Bankhouse Stables had tested positive for equine flu they cancelled race meetings over the following couple of days.
Initially the organisation only cancelled the Thursday’s racing but on Thursday afternoon they chose to extent that to the following Wednesday, February 13th, at the earliest. That’s because the incubation period for equine flu is believed to be 3 days, meaning that no official confirmation of whether any other horses have it will come through until Sunday February 10th.
With the confirmation one way or the other not coming through until Sunday, a decision about whether racing will resume won’t be made until Monday. That would then allow declarations on Tuesday for any of the venues primed to host racing on Wednesday.
What will be causing the industry far more concern, however, is what will happen if further positive cases of equine flu are identified before Sunday. With the Cheltenham Festival just over a month away, many are fearing that racing in general could be forced to grind to a halt indefinitely.
Could The Cheltenham Festival Be Cancelled?
Everyone in horse racing is hoping that things don’t get this far, but there’s no doubt that the Cheltenham Festival would be at risk if it looked as though equine flu was spreading.
As the trainer Seamus Mullins said to BBC Radio 5 live, a regular race meeting can see 70 to 100 horses stabled close to each other, so if any of them have equine flu then it would not take long for it to spread between stables and around the country. If that were to happen then it’s unlikely that the Festival would be able to take place.
The incident that many in the industry are comparing it to is the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, which wreaked havoc to Britain’s farming industry as well as horse racing.
More than six million livestock animals had to be slaughtered as a result of the outbreak and the Cheltenham Festival had to be cancelled. The ‘good’ news as far as equine flu is concerned is that it won’t result in horses being put down or other animals being killed, but it may still cause problems for one of the biggest jump racing meetings in the world.
What Is Equine Flu?
Equine flu is a strain or strains of the Influenza A virus. It damages the respiratory system of horses, offering similar presenting symptoms to the human version of flu. Symptoms can be the following:
- A fever in excess of 38.5 degrees centigrade
- A loss of appetite
- poor performance or lethargy
- A harsh cough, sometimes dry or hacking
- Nasal discharge
Should flu be confirmed there are certain things that a yard will need to do in order to stop its spreading, including ceasing the movement of animals. Infected horses need to be isolated as it can be spread through respiratory drops coming out through coughing and sneezing.
The disease can take months for horses to recover from, hence the concern regarding future meetings, and can lead to death in some cases.