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Racing ban won't go on for months, insists British Horseracing Authority

By Nick Robson

The British Horseracing Authority is confident its prompt action and a "war-room" of vets can stop equine flu shutting the sport down for months.

BHA chief executive Nick Rust has warned a 'three to six-month problem' might have become reality if the national governing body had chosen to play 'Russian roulette' with its response to the outbreak.

Instead, he insists that the initial decision to cancel all racing for six days following confirmation of three positive cases at Donald McCain's yard - from Thursday through to next Tuesday - will ensure the shutdown lasts no longer than "a few weeks at most".

Rust said: "We've got to get a hold of it quickly.

"If we play Russian roulette with the evidence we've got, we could have a problem for three to six months - and no one would thank us for that.

"This is a serious form of flu which debilitates horses. The welfare of our horses is really paramount, above all economics.

"First and foremost, we have no sport without healthy horses."

Asked what a worst-case scenario might still be, with the Cheltenham Festival less than five weeks away and a call set to be made on Monday over a possible resumption of racing dependent on the outcome of tests on racehorses round the country, Rust said: "The worst fears are that we don't contain it quickly.

"But by taking the action we have over the last couple of days - we're effectively locking down the movement of racehorses, instructing trainers to take extra special precautions - we're fairly confident we will manage to restrict it.

"But until we know the complete extent over the next few days of the distribution of the virus, we won't know exactly where we are.

"We have a 'war-room' - we have 20 vets employed at the BHA, forensic investigation, and a lab in Newmarket that is processing hundreds of tests now.

"Once we know whether there has been a spread (of infection) there or not, we will be in a much better position to know where racing is."

Rust remains optimistic, however. "We hope we've got a hold of it quickly and that by Monday we'll be in a position to make another call.

"I don't know if that will need a few more days or not. But I strongly believe this is a few weeks at most, because we've acted quickly."

Concerns grew on Thursday when it became clear the three horses to test positive had also been vaccinated.

Rust added: "Vaccinations never work 100%. Racehorses are among the best looked-after animals in the country - they are super athletes.

"We're on top of this quickly. The reason this has been picked up is because of that care and attention.

"So we've got a very good chance of managing this.

"We are not concerned that we are facing a (superbug) mutation issue here."

A high-profile weekend of racing has already been lost, with Gold Cup winner Native River among those who had been due to warm up at Newbury for this year's Cheltenham challenge.

But Rust confirmed potential Festival prep races will either be re-scheduled or other suitable ones added to the calendar, once the sport resumes.

He said: "We're making preparations for alternative arrangements - so that when racing returns, if there were prep races for horses going to Cheltenham or Aintree, they'll have alternative races in place."

Bookmakers estimate the cancellation of racing in Britain this weekend could cost around £25m in lost betting revenue.

Today was set to include a huge card at Newbury, featuring one of the biggest betting races of the season and key Cheltenham Festival trials.

David Stevens of Coral said: "We've lost some good racing. A weekend like that might cost the industry £25 million with the Betfair Hurdle and a good Gold Cup trial. There was also good racing at Warwick.

"I think that's a fair figure to estimate. We are used to cancellations at this time of year and we've all got our fingers crossed for a resumption as soon as possible."

Belfast Telegraph

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