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BHA chiefs give the green light for horses to get back on track

Tested out: vet Jeremy Allen swabs a Polo Pony to test for equine flu
Tested out: vet Jeremy Allen swabs a Polo Pony to test for equine flu

By Martin Kelly

Racing in Britain will resume with four meetings tomorrow, following a six-day shutdown because of an outbreak of equine influenza, the British Horseracing Authority has announced.

The sport has been on hold since last Thursday after three cases of the highly-contagious virus - subsequently rising to six - were identified at the yard of Grand National-winning trainer Donald McCain in Cheshire.

Hopes of a resumption being possible this week appeared to fade late on Sunday night when it was revealed four positive tests had been discovered at Simon Crisford's stable in Newmarket.

But the BHA said in a statement last night: "After consultation with its veterinary committee, and based on the latest tests conducted by the Animal Health Trust, the BHA's chief regulatory officer, Brant Dunshea, tonight confirmed that racing could resume, but only with strict biosecurity controls in place.

"This decision to return racing in a controlled, risk-managed manner was unanimously supported by the industry veterinary committee."

The equine-flu lockdown may have already cost the industry around £5million - according to leading independent expert Professor Tom Cannon.

Professor Cannon is an Emeritus Professor at Liverpool University, and is well placed to attempt to put a figure on the ongoing cost to racing of no action.

"You've got to look at different parts of the industry - and as yet, nothing lost is on the list of the BHA's major events," said Professor Cannon. "We've lost around 20 meetings so far, so about 120 races. The biggest issue there will be gate receipts.

"Attendances would only be in the low thousands rather than the high thousands you'd get at somewhere like Cheltenham - so I would have thought it wouldn't be much more than £2m-£3m lost.

"You then have all the other things that are associated with that because there are lots of logistical costs. First off there are all the tests being carried out - they might cost another £500,000.

"Then there's the question of prize money. Most of it will be reallocated, but I would have thought you'd be talking somewhere in the low millions. There's only really been Newbury that has been lost of the bigger meetings.

"I would estimate that the hit so far to racing would be around about £5m."

While so far no livelihoods have been placed at risk, a lengthy break - especially with the Cheltenham Festival only four weeks away - could have been catastrophic.

Professor Cannon added: "The big issue, of course, is how long it lasts. Everyone mentions the case in Australia in 2007 when racing was wiped out for months and that had a big impact.

"Everything I've read suggests all these horses have been vaccinated, so a big issue could be if the BHA needs to come up with a new vaccine. We know flu viruses do mutate and that would be a real issue, it would cost a large amount funding the research into a new vaccine.

"One real worry for the BHA is that there appears to be no link between the two yards that have tested positive so far.

"Everybody, of course, is terrified about Cheltenham - and if we lost Cheltenham then you are talking about 10s of millions if it stretched that long. They are multi-million-pound events.

"A lot rests on when racing resumes. If it goes on another week, the figure won't double, it will start multiplying - because then you start getting a loss of confidence and real worries."

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