It’s a situation of such significance and magnitude that the mainstream press are taking an interest.
The equine influenza outbreak has forced UK horse racing into a full-on lockdown, with meetings cancelled up and down the land from Thursday onwards and until Wednesday February 13 at the earliest.
That means some high profile meetings that were being treated as Cheltenham Festival warm-ups, including the ‘Super Saturday’ card at Newbury, have been called off.
More than 100 yards are currently being tested, including those of Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls, after the source of the outbreak was traced to Donald McCain’s yard in Cheshire.
He had runners at Ayr and Ludlow earlier in the week, and the fear is that a further spread may have taken place there.
As if Nick Rust, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, didn’t have enough on his plate right now, he was forced into appearing on Good Morning Britain opposite the odious Piers Morgan this morning.
And while spending time in the company of the ravishing Susannah Reid appeals, unfortunately that’s where the good news ended for Rust and any watching punters.
“We’re fairly confident that with swift action we will manage to restrict it, but until we know the full extent of the distribution of the virus, we won’t know where we are,” were his rather worrying words.
“Our worst fears are that we don’t contain it quickly, but by taking the action we have in the last couple of days we’re effectively locking down movement of racehorses and instructing trainers to take extra special precautions.
“If we play Russian roulette with the evidence we’ve got, we could have a problem for three to six months.”
That sort of timeframe would have significant implications for the National Hunt calendar, with the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National both in jeopardy.
Hopefully, the situation has been quarantined, controlled and will allow racing to return at some point next week.
Henderson Fears ‘Unthinkable’ Repercussions
As one of the trainers with runners at Ayr and Ludlow in the week, Nicky Henderson’s yard has been placed into a temporary lockdown while his horses are tested for the virus.
And he now fears for the immediate future should the situation not be managed effectively.
“The repercussions of this are unthinkable as we could be without racing for weeks, months or longer – who knows? It’s important that this problem is sorted straight away one way or the other,” he said.
“We had a team of vets come in at 6am on Friday morning to take nasal swabs from every horse in the yard, and my wife Sophie will then take the swabs straight to Newmarket so that we can find out where we stand as, in common with many other trainers, I want and need to know.”
Happily, Henderson confirmed that he schooled 30 of his horses at home on Thursday morning, and reported that they all ‘seemed well enough in themselves’.
Henderson and his fellow trainers that are currently under testing will not be allowed to declare runners until their stables have been cleared by the BHA’s own veterinary team.