Horseracing in the UK has resumed this week, following a temporary shut down after an outbreak of equine influenza.
Action was halted last week over the discovery of equine flu in a number of racing horses, including several runners at Ayr and Ludlow. The decision was taking by the British Horseracing Association as a protective measure, designed to contain the outbreak and ensure as few horses as possible were affected.
On Monday of this week, the British Horseracing Association said that racing action would resume from Wednesday, on a “risk-managed” basis. The decision follows advice from the Animal Health Trust and industry vets, who gave the go-ahead for a return to normal racing business.
However, meetings will be subject to “strict biosecurity controls”, to ensure no further outbreaks and to contain the spread of the virus.
Horses that have not received a vaccination within the preceding six months will be excluded from racing, while trainers will be required to submit a declaration of health on arrival at any race meeting.
Director of equine health and welfare at the BHA, David Sykes, said that “this is not a typical endemic period” for equine flu, and current equine flu levels across Europe were “unprecedented”.
The particular strain has been described as “virulent”, strong enough to affect horses who had been recently vaccinated for the condition. As a result, the BHA has said it has no choice but to instigate these and other controls to prevent the condition from spreading further.
Like human strains of flu, equine influenza has a debilitating effect on horses. According to the BHA, the measures were necessary to prevent “a long-term disruption to racing with the risk of many of our major events being unduly impacted.”
The decision to resume racing was taken after testing thousands of samples, with no further positive tests detected by Monday. BHA vets believe the outbreak was confined to two race courses. While the association believes there is still some risk, these are described as at an “acceptable” level by the group and its veterinary staff.
Similarly, Irish racing authorities have decreed that British horses can run, provided they were not from infected stables and had been vaccinated within the last 8 weeks.
While these restrictions will likely prevent some horses from running over the coming weeks, the vast majority of racing action should continue as billed, in spite of these control measures.
The closure of racing action caused significant problems for some sectors of the gaming industry, with reports of losses of as much as £2 million per day for each day of the ban. Translated into tax revenue, this works out at a £300,000 cost to the Exchequer for every day the ban was in force.
Some analysts are now suggesting the shutdown could reflect on Q1 performance for some bookies, particularly those with large racing books.
While incidents like these are always likely to be damaging to the betting industry, and other industries that work closely in and around the racing scene, the main concern is always the welfare of the animals involved.
The BHA had a call to make following veterinary advice, and for the most part, that has been supported by these industries despite the financial implications. The hope is now that with more effective controls in place, further outbreaks can be avoided.