Announced late last night, the British Racing Authority (BHA) confirmed it had received unanimous support from the industry veterinary committee to make a risk-managed return’ to horseracing.
Following numerous tests carried out by Animal Health Trust, the BHA’s Chief Regulatory Officer Brant Dunshea affirmed that racing will resume from Wednesday this week but only with strict biosecurity measures in place.
The sport was brought to a six-day halt after a number of confirmed cases of equine influenza were identified in vaccinated horses at a handful of racing stables.
Dunshea said: “Our approach since hearing about the first positive results last Wednesday has been based on accumulating as much information as we could as quickly as possible so we could properly understand the risks of this virulent strain of flu spreading to more horses.
“That would be harmful to them and damaging to any trainers’ yards that became infected. It has also been our intention to ensure that we avoid an issue that could result in a long-term disruption to racing with the risk of many of our major events being unduly impacted.
“After analysis of thousands of samples, and no further positive tests on Monday, we still only have two confirmed sites of infection. We have put robust containment measures in place around both. From the testing and analysis conducted the disease appears to be contained at present. The BHA veterinary committee believe that the swift controls on movement that were put in place have clearly helped to restrict the spread of this virus.
“There have been significant logistical issues associated with testing and processing so many tests in such a short space of time. Fortunately, owing to the tireless efforts of the Animal Health Trust, trainers and their local vets, and BHA staff, the vast majority of yards which had been placed on hold will be in a position to resume racing.
“Clearly, there is some risk associated with returning to racing. This risk has been assessed and, based on the evidence – and ensuring biosecurity measures are in place – the level of risk is viewed as acceptable.”
Following the confirmation of the initial outbreak, 184 yards were placed on lockdown to both reduce the risk of the virus and identify those at risk.
As part of the controlled return, the BHA has developed a risk framework which allows it to categorise individual trainers by the level of risk they have been exposed to. The ability of runners to return to racing from those yards will depend on the risk categories the yards are placed in.
The racing body has issued an order stating that horses that have not been vaccinated in the last six months will not be eligible for entry nor will declarations be accepted. Advice has been issued to trainers and owners to check vaccination records prior to making a declaration.
In addition to this, trainers will be required to provide a current health declaration upon arrival to the racecourse to assure officials that the virus is not present.
The BHA’s Director of Equine Health and Welfare, David Sykes, commented on the update: “The BHA and the veterinary committee agree that, on balance, the level of risk is acceptable for a return to racing. We have developed a risk model, which the veterinary committee support, in order to assist the return to racing.
“We will observe closely those horses who are taken to the racecourse and will intervene as a precaution to prevent a horse running or accessing a racecourse if we believe it might put other horses at risk of infection.
“The veterinary committee are of the view that an unprecedented amount of this disease has been identified in Europe. This is not a typical endemic period and it was essential that precautions be taken to protect the horse population.”
InsiderInsight: The return to racing has already received a warm welcome from a number of industry stakeholders, including bookmakers. The decision to issue a six-month inoculation record has raised some speculation from trainers, but this will surely help in the containment of the virus – hopefully preventing this from happening again.