Equine flu outbreak: Fontwell Park bosses on alert as British racing is called off for six days

The chances of Fontwell Park losing a fixture over the outbreak of equine flu have increased with news that all racing in Britain between now and next Wednesday is off.

They'll be hoping to race as planned at Fontwell next Thursday / Picture by Clive Bennett
They'll be hoping to race as planned at Fontwell next Thursday / Picture by Clive Bennett

Intitially, all racing in Britain today (Thursday) was cancelled after the BHA confirmed three cases of equine influenza in horses who had been vaccinated.

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A decision about when it may resume will take place on Monday.

Fontwell is due to stage racing on Thursday (Feb 14) and the course's owners, ARC, had said in a statement before the shut-down was extended: “Following today’s announcement, 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.

"With regards upcoming fixtures, we await to hear further news from BHA, but will update customers as soon as we can.”

Plumpton officials are also monitoring things - they are due to race on Wednesday (Feb 13).

The three horses affected, now confirmed as being from trainer Donald McCain's yard, had all been vaccinated.

British horses have been barred from being entered in races in Ireland.

Equine influenza is highly contagious and can be transmitted through the air and by humans.

Goodwood's season does not begin until May.

Below is the answers to some of the questions being posed - courtesy of the Racing Post


What has happened?

Late on Wednesday evening, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) reported there had been three positive cases of equine influenza in vaccinated racehorses and announced that all meetings in Britain on Thursday were cancelled. The decision was taken so as not to risk further spread of the disease.

What is equine influenza?

It is described as the most potentially damaging of the respiratory viruses that occur in horses in the United Kingdom, with symptoms including high fever, coughing and nasal discharge. It is not usually fatal, although there can be complications from pneumonia. Incubation can take two to six days and horses can remain infectious for seven to ten days. Recovery can sometimes take several months.

Why is there so much concern?

Equine influenza is highly contagious and can be airborne over reasonable distances as well as being transmitted indirectly, including via people. Horses from the infected yard raced at Ayr and Ludlow on Wednesday, potentially exposing a significant number of horses from across Britain and in Ireland.

When will racing resume?

Racing across Britain has been suspended until at least Wednesday, February 13 as the BHA seeks to confine the equine influenza outbreak that has paralysed the sport.

Major fixtures over the weekend will not go ahead while a decision will be made on Monday as to when racing will resume. Racing will go ahead in Ireland.

Could the Cheltenham Festival or Aintree Grand National meeting be affected?

There is no indication yet on how long racing might be affected.

What about Irish racing?

Racing is going ahead in Ireland but British horses have been barred from being entered in races in Ireland for the time being.

Have there been outbreaks of equine influenza in the past?

Yes. Mandatory vaccination of racehorses was introduced by the Jockey Club in 1981 following an outbreak in 1979 which caused widespread disruption. A further outbreak occurred in 1989 in which vaccinated horses were not protected. The most major recent outbreak was in 2003 when more than 1,000 horses were affected in 21 yards in Newmarket. However, racing continued during that outbreak.

What about abroad?

A major outbreak of equine flu in Australia in 2007 led to widespread cancellation of racing including the Sydney Spring Carnival and cost the industry millions of dollars. However, the major difference with the UK was that the racehorses in Australia had not been vaccinated and immunity was far lower than it is in the UK.

* Trainer Gordon Elliott had five runners at Ayr yesterday, where the infected yard had one runner. Elliott told the Racing Post: "We didn't take them back to the yard. They are in isolation in a yard 10 or 15 miles away from our own that has no racehorses in it.

"The authorities have to take every precaution, which is understandable. We've been told it's a million-to one chance that it will impact our runners, but we're not going to take any chances. We'll leave them in quarantine as long as we have to.

"If the three horses from the affected yard that were racing on Wednesday test negative, well then it will be a big sigh of relief for everyone. If they come back positive, well then anyone else who brought horses back to their yard, more so English trainers as they might not have got the notification on time, then it's a concern."

* Bill Barber at the Racing Post commented: “The outbreak of equine influenza that prompted the BHA to cancel all of today's race meetings is undoubtedly serious. Just how serious we will not know until more test results arrive later in the day.

"This is the first time that a race meeting in Britain has been cancelled due to an outbreak of equine flu since mandatory vaccination for racehorses was introduced in 1981, illustrating the gravity of the situation.

"At this stage, with Cheltenham and Aintree in mind, anything looking further ahead than the immediate future is just speculation. Comparisons with the outbreak in Australia in 2007, which caused huge disruption, may not be helpful as the racehorses there had never suffered equine influenza before.

"As for the cost to the industry, a quiet midweek day in winter can often be wiped out by the weather with little lasting effect. The longer this goes on, however, the greater the impact will be.”