An outbreak of equine flu has forced the cancellation of all British racing on Thursday – and the British Horseracing Authority is set to decide in the coming hours how long the shutdown must last.
The BHA made the decision to cancel all Thursday’s cards on Wednesday night after the Animal Health Trust confirmed three positive tests from vaccinated horses in an active racing yard.
In an initial statement, the BHA reported horses from the infected yard of raced on Wednesday at Ayr and Ludlow, adding identification of the virus in vaccinated animals presented a “cause for significant concern”.
It was later confirmed the yard was Donald McCain’s, in Cheshire.
In an update on Thursday morning, the governing body added: “We will endeavour to issue regular information, but we are still in the early stages of assessing the scale and severity of the outbreak.
“We are working quickly to identify the extent of the infection and will have more information when further test results are returned today. The results from those tests will not be known until this evening.
“Following these results being known, a call will be convened to discuss the implications, and a decision will then be made as to the impact on racing in the coming days.
“We are aware that people want to know the situation as regards racing tomorrow and this weekend, and we will seek to provide more clarity as soon as we are able. It is likely that any definitive decisions on whether racing can take place tomorrow will be taken later this evening.”
The BHA said in its previous statement: “The action to cancel racing has been viewed as necessary in order to restrict, as far as possible, the risk of further spread of the disease.
“The BHA has worked quickly to identify which yards could have potentially been exposed today and identify the further actions required.”
Thursday’s cancellations come less than five weeks before the start of this year’s Cheltenham Festival – the annual highlight of the National Hunt calendar – while Wolverhampton, due to host an all-weather Flat card on Saturday, has announced the course will not do so.
Inevitably, until the situation becomes clearer, for thousands of racing followers – and of course those directly involved in the industry – there will be uncomfortable echoes of the foot-and-mouth crises of 1967 and 2001.
On each occasion, the racing calendar was affected for two months – and in 2001, the Cheltenham Festival was abandoned.
In the immediate future on this occasion, a packed weekend of Cheltenham trials and other big races is scheduled at Newbury, Warwick, Musselburgh and in Ireland.
The governing body’s statement added: “The BHA is presently communicating with yards potentially exposed to ensure appropriate quarantine and biosecurity measures are put in place and horse movements restricted to avoid possible further spread of the disease.
“The full extent of potential exposure is unknown, and we are working quickly to understand as much as we can to assist our decision-making.”
The action to cancel Thursday’s races was taken with unanimous support of the BHA’s industry veterinary committee – affecting meetings at Huntingdon, Doncaster, Ffos Las and Chelmsford.
Wolverhampton then issued an update via Twitter, announcing this weekend’s card will not take place.
It read: “Following today’s announcement by the BHA Saturday’s meeting is cancelled – we will be working with BHA and Animal Health Trust to make sure that our racecourses take every measure to maintain high levels of biosecurity.”
Racing was, however, set to go ahead in Ireland at Thurles on Thursday.
An update on the track’s official Twitter account read: “Racing goes ahead as planned here today. First race off at 1:15.”
Equine influenza is a highly infectious disease of horses, mules and donkeys. Symptoms in non–immune animals include high fever, coughing and nasal discharge.