British horse racing to resume after shutdown over flu virus

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Horse racing in Britain will resume on Wednesday after a six-day shutdown following an outbreak of equine flu.

Two scheduled jump racing fixtures will go ahead at Musselburgh and Plumpton, alongside the all-weather fixtures at Southwell and Kempton.

Racing was suspended after three cases of equine flu at Donald McCain’s Cheshire stables. Three further cases were later reported at his yard.

A total of 174 racing stables had been placed in lockdown.

Trainers will be assessed before they are given the all-clear to have runners, while five races called off during the shutdown have been rescheduled and Ascot will stage a bumper nine-race card on Saturday.

The Denman Chase, which had been due to feature last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River, and the Betfair Hurdle will be staged at Ascot after Newbury’s meeting on 9 February was cancelled.

A decision to resume racing in a “controlled, risk-managed manner” was unanimously supported by an industry veterinary committee, said the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

The committee felt there had been “an unprecedented amount” of the highly contagious virus in Europe, and it was essential precautions were taken to protect horses.

“Clearly there is some risk associated with returning to racing,” said the BHA’s chief regulatory officer Brant Dunshea.

“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.”

Fears there would be an extended suspension of racing, and a potential impact on next month’s Cheltenham Festival, were raised when a second outbreak, involving four vaccinated horses, was confirmed late on Sunday at trainer Simon Crisford’s Newmarket yard.

But no further positive results were found after thousands of samples were analysed.

While equine influenza is not unlike human flu – with typical symptoms including a cough and high temperature – it limits the competitive capability of racehorses.

All racing in Britain has been suspended since 7 February, with 23 meetings lost during the shutdown.

Jump racing’s showpiece Cheltenham Festival is scheduled to take place from 12 to 15 March.

“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,” said Dunshea.

“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.”