The British Horseracing Authority insists it has “unanimous” support from expert advisers as its decision to halt the sport during the equine flu outbreak comes under fire from high-profile trainers.
The BHA announced the first abandonments on Thursday, after three cases of the virulent strain were found in vaccinated horses at Donald McCain’s yard.
The governing body subsequently called off all British fixtures until next Wednesday at the earliest – a six-day shutdown – while it carries out thousands of swab tests on more than 170 yards which might have been at risk of cross-contamination on race days.
A further announcement, as to if or when racing can resume, is scheduled on Monday – with the number of positive tests currently standing at six, all so far from the same stable.
While racing continues in Ireland, Gold Cup-winning trainers Colin Tizzard and Nigel Twiston-Davies have both voiced their frustration at the BHA response – which they believe is an over-reaction.
However, the BHA’s chief regulatory officer Brant Dunshea has denied that is in any way the case.
“We don’t believe that it is an over-reaction,” he told ITV4’s Opening Show programme.
“We’re being guided by our industry veterinary committee, who are made up of respected veterinary surgeons and professionals from across the industry – representing each of our stakeholder bodies.
“They have been unanimous in their support of the decision to cease racing on Thursday – and then again the decision we took to cease racing through till next Tuesday, inclusive.
“They are the experts, and they’re providing the advice we need to make the decisions we believe are right under the circumstances.”
Tizzard had earlier told the Daily Mirror: “Someone’s going to have to stand up and say, ‘It’s only equine flu.'”
“It’s not the major problem everyone is saying. Why have we got to have a shutdown in all racing, just because a dozen horses have tested positive to the flu?
“It’s an overreaction.
“I don’t think it’s a reason to stop racing — they are going to have to start (again) somewhere, so I think they should start straightaway.”
Tizzard’s Gold Cup winner Native River is among the equine household names who were due to have their last prep races this weekend – before racing at Newbury and elsewhere was cancelled – for next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
Dunshea defended the BHA’s stance robustly.
Addressing the contrasting situation in Ireland, where racing is set to continue at Naas and Punchestown this weekend, he said: “We’ve come to that decision based on the advice we’ve received.
“Other racing jurisdictions will make decisions based on the circumstances for their population – we are doing what we believe is right to protect our population and mitigate the risk of this having ongoing consequences.
“What we’ve done has been a precautionary measure to allow us to assess what is happening in our population.
“Every day, we are risk-assessing where we’re at, and decisions will be made early next week as to where we go to from here.