The sport of horseracing was turned on it’s head on Wednesday 6th February with the news that three horses trained by Cheshire-based Donald McCain had tested positive for equine flu, despite having been vaccinated against the virus. Late on Wednesday evening the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced that all meetings would be cancelled until Wednesday 13th February at the earliest, since when three further McCain-trained horses, along with four horses from the Newmarket stable of Simon Crisford, have also tested positive, resulting in ten positives from a batch of more than 2000 horses tested.
Equine influenza is a highly infectious disease of horses, mules and donkeys occurring globally caused by strains of Influenza A virus. It is the most potentially damaging of the respiratory viruses that occur in UK equines and disease symptoms in non-immune animals include high fever, coughing and nasal discharge.
All racehorses are required to be vaccinated against flu, preventing spread of the virus, although it’s presence in vaccinated horses demonstrates that it’s not completely effective against this strain. Symptoms are usually mild in vaccinated horses but can affect a horse’s performance.
Florida Clade 1 strain is endemic in North and South America and is different from Clade 2 strain which is endemic in Europe. While British-trained horses are vaccinated against both strains this is more virulent than the European strain and therefore able to affect vaccinated horses.
Treatment is similar to that for human flu. Rest, and other medications for symptoms when needed. Vaccinated horses are usually affected for between 24 and 48 hours although their performance can be affected for several days or in some cases weeks. Unvaccinated horses need between 2 and 10 days to fully recover.
The BHA are obviously taking a cautious approach, supported by Government, National Trainers Federation and Animal Health Trust. There are many critics however, including trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and Henrietta Knight, handler of triple Gold Cup winner Best Mate, who has said: “ It has opened up a can of worms which would have been better left shut. No horses are dying and no horses are badly sick. Innoculations are clearly minimising adverse aspects of the virus. We should draw a big sigh of relief and carry on.”
The BHA lifted the lockdown on racing late on Monday evening following a lengthy meeting of it’s veterinary committee. Racing will resume on Wednesday (13th Feb) with Jump meetings at Plumpton and Musselburgh alongside Flat all-weather cards at Southwell and Kempton.
The Betfair Hurdle and Denman Chase (Gold Cup Trial) from last Saturday’s prestigious Newbury meeting will be included in a bumper nine-race card at Ascot this Saturday while Warwick’s Kingmaker Novices’ Chase has been rescheduled at Sandown on Friday.