Officials at Musselburgh racecourse are gutted to lose their record-breaking fixture on Sunday due to the outbreak of equine flu which has halted all racing in Britain.
The East Lothian track lost their prestigious two-day Cheltenham Trials fixture to the weather last weekend, but had managed to replace it with a new fixture this coming Sunday which would have carried more then £160,000 in prize money and would have featured some of the lost Trial races from the previous week. Now that “second bite at the cherry” has gone too after the British Horseracing Authority announced there would be no racing until next Wednesday at the earliest due to the equine flu development.
Musselburgh boss Bill Farnsworth said: “Obviously, we are very disappointed, but it is wholly understandable and we feel for the owners, trainers and jockeys as well as the racing public. Everyone had been looking forward to this weekend.
“However, this outbreak is extremely serious and we concur with the action taken by the BHA and we are hopeful that we may be able to resurrect another extra meeting in the near future.
“With the Cheltenham Festival just over a month away, many top-class horses will need to get a run before the big event and we shall certainly be monitoring the situation.
“The BHA have very good systems in place to deal with this sort of thing and once racing gets the all-clear, they will doubtless be looking closely at the racing calendar and offering extra fixtures. It will then be up to racecourses to apply for those extra dates and if any fit into our programme then we will certainly be applying.
“The track is in great shape as we have had small fields so far this winter because of the dry weather and we would be able to race on perfect fresh ground.”
With more than 12,000 horses in training, the equine flu outbreak threatens to wreak havoc but Farnsworth explained: ”The authorities have a very detailed record of every horse – where it is trained, where it has travelled and even which box in the racecourse stables it occupied when it went to the races, so they are able to keep a very close check on things,
“Every horse has a passport which serves for identification and also carries a comprehensive medical record which covers injuries, ailments and all vaccinations.
“Hopefully, they can get the all clear and get the show back on the road in time for our next fixture on Wednesday, February 13. If we do manage to race then, admission here will be free.”
Equine flu is extremely contagious and the virus is carried in the air, so can spread very quickly, hence the urgent action by the racing authorities following the discovery of three horses who raced at different meetings on Wednesday this week and were subsequently found to be suffering from the disease.
More than 100 racing stables throughout the country which had runners at any of the three meetings are currently in lockdown while all the horses in those yards are tested and they will not be allowed to have runners until all horses in that yard have been cleared.
It is understood that this particular virus – which does not threaten the life of the animal but can have a huge affect on well-being and performance – originated in France some weeks ago and has since spread to Ireland and now Britain. It can affect all horses, ponies etc and can be spread easily and quickly, hence the BHA regulations that all race horses must be vaccinated on a very strict basis.
It is hoped this will help nullify the danger and we won’t be looking at a scenario like that in Australia in 2007 when there were no such restrictions and a similar outbreak led to a three-month period without racing.