BHA cancel all UK races until Wednesday at the earliest

The origin and scale of the latest outbreak of equine influenza are as yet unclear, as are the longer-term implications for the sport

An outbreak of equine influenza has forced the suspension of horse racing up and down the country, however will there be longer-lasting implications with a possibility that Cheltenham Festival might be cancelled?

Thursday’s events were pretty dramatic with no horse racing taking place across the country, Bookmakers and British racing in general being sent into panic as an attempt was made to stop the spread of an equine flu strain which had been detected in three horses on Wednesday.

Trainer Donald McCain confirmed that three horses in his yard had contracted the virus, however the more worrying news was that he had already sent horses to Wolverhampton, Ayr and Ludlow the same day. As such any yard which had potentially come into contact with any infected horse had to be closed until further notice, this affecting in excess of 100 trainers and many more stable staff.

The BHA’s decision to suspend racing was extremely swift and they have to be commended for their efforts in bringing under control a virus which is highly contagious. Also commendable was the speed at which the BHA informed the general public of their decision to suspend all racing until Wednesday at the earliest.

“The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has this afternoon taken the decision that racing will not resume in Britain until Wednesday February 13 at the earliest, including fixtures programmed by the Point-to-Point Authority.” The BHA announced on Thursday evening.

“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.”

There will be a much clearer picture of what the situation actually is by the start of next week given that equine flu takes around three days before the symptoms make themselves evident. Nevertheless with the prestigious and lucrative Cheltenham Festival now less than three weeks away, is there a danger that it might have to be cancelled? The BHA state that it is still to early to say with any degree of certainty but they also hinted that given the evidence, the likelihood is that the festival will be unaffected.

Our opinion is that we will better understand the situation after this weekend, however for the time being we should treat Cheltenham Festival as being ‘business as usual’ unless we hear otherwise over the next few days.