Regulator Lifts Ban on Horse Racing After Equine Flu Outbreak

Veterinarian applying stethoscope to horse

30-second summary

  • Regulating authority announced late Monday night it was lifting the ban on horse racing
  • Strict biosecurity measures are in place
  • Ten horses tested positive so far for equine flu
  • Testing of horses is ongoing, with more than 2,000 tested so far

The British Horseracing Authority, regulator of the UK’s racing sector, has announced a “risk-managed” lifting of the ban on horse racing. The ban was implemented last Wednesday after an outbreak of equine flu.

The authorities are still working hard to get a grip on the outbreak. Ten horses have tested positive for the disease and many stables remain on lockdown.

“Risk-managed” resumption of racing

The BHA and the industry’s veterinary committee, which comprises representatives from all of horse racing’s key organizations, put out a statement on Monday evening. Brant Dunshea, the BHA’s chief regulatory officer, confirmed that the ban was being lifted, “but only with strict biosecurity controls in place.”

Dunshea said: “It has 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.”

The BHA has confirmed that four race meetings will go ahead on Wednesday as scheduled. Some races are to be rescheduled and more details of upcoming races will be announced Tuesday.

The authority has put together a risk framework with which to “categorize individual trainers by the level of risk they have been exposed to.”  It said it was still finalizing those categories and would notify stables on Tuesday of their status and ability to enter their horses into races.

The BHA stressed the importance of biosecurity, stating that only horses vaccinated in the last six months would be eligible to race and that “all trainers will be required to provide a health declaration upon arrival at a racecourse.”

Ongoing testing

By the end of last weekend, more than 2,000 racehorses at 174 stables had been tested for equine flu. Testing is being carried out by the Animal Health Trust, at the request of the BHA.

Last week six horses tested positive – three had raced on Wednesday and the other three were from the same stable. Of concern is that another four horses at one stable have since tested positive despite not having raced recently or been in possible contact with other horses that had.

Those four horses are stabled at Newmarket, a hub of the racing community. The BHA said it was asking racehorse trainers in the town to be “extra vigilant when it comes to biosecurity measures and to follow guidance for disease control.”

The BHA and AHT have met with the Newmarket Infectious Diseases Response Committee to discuss how to contain the virus in the area. The committee includes some local trainers and veterinarians.

Business as usual

During the ban, both racecourses and bookmakers continued their usual preparations in anticipation of the ban on races being lifted. Four race meetings are scheduled for next weekend.

At Haydock racecourse, which hosts the William Hill Grand National Trial on Saturday, the racecourse’s spokesperson Dickon White said: “The track and stables will be prepared as usual and we’ll be setting up the site as though we’re racing.” With a prize purse of £100,000 ($129,000), it is easy to see why they were keen to be ready should the ban be lifted. However, White admitted that ticket sales had been affected.

Ascot, one of the most prestigious venues, is holding the Betfair Ascot Chase, with a prize of £150,000 ($193,000). Its director of racing and communications, Nick Smith, said: “We’re awaiting but not pre-empting the BHA’s assessment of the situation tomorrow.”

Footing the bill

Trainers have faced mounting costs at their stables because of compulsory testing, such as veterinary fees and the cost of swabs. They have called on the BHA for financial help.

The BHA said it would shortly announce a policy to assist with these costs, “based on a fixed fee per horse sampled.” The reimbursements will be covered by the BHA and the Horserace Betting Levy Board.

The BHA’s CEO Nick Rust said: “Containment of this potential outbreak – and a swift return to racing – relies on [trainers’] support. We appreciate that there are logistical and financial implications in the current situation and, as such, in order to help with the cost of testing, the BHA and HBLB have agreed to pay a contribution to owners or trainers for the costs incurred.

“We are all working in the same direction – prevention of the spread of disease and the minimum possible disruption to racing.”

Ban lifted in Ireland

Meantime, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board lifted its ban on British horses racing in Ireland on Monday afternoon. British horses will be eligible to race there as long as they have been vaccinated with the Clade 1 equine flu vaccine within eight weeks of any race they will compete in. They must also comply with all the other rules laid out by the board.

The vaccination requirement is new to the IHRB, which currently has no official regulation that compels stables that discover cases of equine flu to notify it. But the British outbreak means the IHRB will almost certainly now review its regulations on disease.