Equine Influenza Cases Cause UK Racing Shutdown

Robert Havlin on board Cracksman

Some extremely worrying and surprising news broke at midnight with UK Racing on Thursday 7th February being cancelled due to an outbreak of equine influenza. The BHA was informed by the Animal Health Trust of three confirmed cases from vaccinated horses in an active yard, which caused the shutdown of racing on Thursday. Further news was announced at around 4pm today, with over 100 yards in lockdown and racing stopped until at least the 13th of February.

Update as of February 7th

It was announced at around 3pm that over 100 yards had been locked down by the BHA, as the governing body looks to contain the spread of equine influenza. Any yards who had runners at Ludlow or Ayr on Wednesday and Wolverhampton on Monday are subject to their entire string being tested.

With such a vast quantity of yards, including Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls, affected, it was no surprise that around an hour later, racing was cancelled until at least Wednesday the 13th of February. The decision as to whether racing can go ahead from that point, will be made on Monday, with further results from the testing of yards being available at that stage. Three horses from the Donald McCain yard tested positive for equine influenza, which has lead to the further testing and shutdown of racing for this period.

What is Equine Influenza?

Equine Influenza is a highly infectious disease that affects horses, donkeys and mules, occurring worldwide. It’s caused by strains of Influenza A virus and is one of the most damaging respiratory viruses that can occur in equines in this country. Symptoms include high fever nasal discharge and coughing.

Why has the shutdown been enforced?

As above, Equine Influenza is an extremely damaging virus and a mass outbreak across the UK equine scene would be potentially devastating. With the infected yard having runners at both Ayr and Ludlow on Wednesday, there is potential that a large number of horses were exposed to the virus. With runners from Ireland also competing at Ayr on Wednesday, it’s impossible to say that it is fully contained in just the UK until further testing is completed.

What happens now? Is Cheltenham in danger?

At this stage, it’s simply impossible to say. The thing we have to remember is that the safety of our equine heroes has to be of top priority, with this cancellation of racing necessary to understand how widespread the outbreak is. Once the testing of the yards has been completed, we’ll have a much clearer idea of how widespread the outbreak is and what measures need to be taken beyond the weekend. It’s far too early at this stage to suggest if this will affect Cheltenham, but that will obviously be in the thoughts of many people.

The 2007/08 Australian Influenza outbreak is likely to be brought up many times until the exact situation is unveiled, with that particular crisis lasting from August 2007 to July 2008. The likelihood of things being that severe is highly unlikely, however, with that virus spreading so rapidly due to it not being endemic to the region.

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