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British Horseracing Authority officials have announced no new positive cases of equine influenza — including those from Rebecca Menzies’ yard — have been detected among more than 700 so far processed.
In an update on Saturday afternoon, the BHA reported the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket found “no further positive samples” following the six previously detected at Donald McCain’s stable.
Under the header ‘latest information’, the BHA’s statement read: “The AHT has informed the BHA that it has received approximately 2,100 nasal swabs and tested and reported on 720. So far, other than the six at the yard of Donald McCain already identified, there have been no further positive samples returned.
“This includes the swabs taken from horses at the yard of Rebecca Menzies. One horse — which tested negative — had previously been identified as suspicious and high risk after testing at a different laboratory.
“All these horses will remain under close surveillance, analysis of tests from the yard is ongoing — and testing of the suspicious horses will be repeated.”
The BHA announced the cancellation of three meetings on Thursday, because of the flu outbreak, and then swiftly imposed a six-day shutdown of the sport until Wednesday, February 13 at the earliest.
The governing body is due to decide on Monday whether a Wednesday resumption is still feasible.
Hopes that it might be appeared to recede when it became apparent on Friday night a second yard, Menzies’ in Durham, was potentially affected by the virus, which is confirmed as the FC1 North American strain.
And while Saturday’s initial all-clear on those horses appears much more encouraging, the BHA also warns there will be further re-testing — and many more samples remain to be examined from more than 170 yards which might have come into contact with the infection.
The BHA’s director of equine health and welfare David Sykes said: “We are very grateful to all those trainers whose horses may have come into contact with those from the infected yard for working so rapidly with us and the Animal Health Trust to test their horses.
“There are many more tests to analyse, and the nature of the incubation period means that a negative test now does not mean that horse has never had this flu virus. So these yards continue to remain locked down, and their horses kept under observation.
“Although hundreds of tests have been completed already, there are many hundreds more to be analysed over the weekend before we will have a fuller picture. The nature of disease control means that if a positive did emerge elsewhere, that could lead to more yards being locked down.
“I would advise against anyone drawing any conclusions or making any predictions based on this set of results. Our focus remains on containing the virus through the strict adherence to biosecurity measures we are seeing across the industry.”
Menzies said in a statement: “The Animal Health Trust has today informed the BHA that the three horses which I had in isolation here at Howe Hills have returned a negative test result for equine flu.
“Whilst the team here are all delighted, we are further heartened to see that the prompt actions of the team and the following of our own meticulous, professional and effective procedures which we deliver on a daily basis with all our horses and practices, together with our team of vets and advisers, has demonstrated the willingness of us all to support and be guided by our colleagues at the BHA and their dedicated team members.
“My grateful thanks on behalf of ourselves and all racing fans to the huge amount of work the BHA and their teams have exercised in the last few days and undoubtedly the actions that have been taken will ensure we are back racing as soon as possible.
“On behalf of myself and the team here at Howe Hills we would like to express our best wishes to those more seriously affected.”
The BHA’s swift and uncompromising response to the outbreak at first received universal industry support.
However, there has since been dissension in the ranks from high-profile trainers Nigel Twiston-Davies and Colin Tizzard — who voiced their frustration at what they believe is an “overreaction” to abandon all domestic fixtures for six days.
The BHA statement added: “The objective of the decision to suspend racing was to control the outbreak and ensure that racing can safely recommence as soon as possible.
“There is still more testing to carry out in the coming 48 hours before it is possible to say whether or not the spread has been contained. Even then, horses in those yards will continue to be closely observed. The initial incubation period for the disease may not have passed for many of the potentially exposed.
“Equine influenza is a highly-infectious disease of horses and is different from a common ‘bug’ that might impact some yards from time to time. Racing’s key priority is the welfare of our horses at all times, but there are three key reasons that lay behind the decision to respond as the industry has.
“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.
“It can be particularly serious for younger horses, which is of particular concern with the breeding season about to start.
“The industry goes to great lengths and expense to vaccinate our population and impose controls to attempt to prevent the disease from affecting our horses. Running a sick horse is not good for its welfare.”
The BHA’s chief regulatory officer Brant Dunshea said: “We are acutely aware of the short-term impact of the decision to suspend racing. The BHA remains grateful for the assistance and the sensible precautions being taken by trainers and the patience shown by our racecourses and all those involved in the industry.
“The continued adherence to controls on the movement or horses and people and to strict biosecurity measures will protect the health of our horses and allow racing to return as soon as possible.”
A statement from the BHA’s veterinary committee was also included in Saturday’s update.
It read: “The veterinary committee has provided advice to the BHA throughout this equine influenza outbreak and has unanimously endorsed the initial precautionary decision to cease racing on Thursday February 7 — and then the further decision to cease racing through until, at the earliest, Wednesday, February 13.
“By then, significant results from laboratory testing of contacts will be available.
“The results we have seen so far suggest that the actions taken by the BHA have helped prevent the possible further spread of this highly-infectious virus.
“The committee is conscious that the sport is doing all that it can, with vaccination and biosecurity measures, to control this outbreak and in order to safeguard the health and welfare of the horse population and to ensure that it causes the least amount of disruption to the industry as possible.
“The committee are continuing to meet on a daily basis to reassess the situation and provide advice to the BHA.”
The BHA added: “The decision to suspend racing was made on expert scientific advice and agreed unanimously by the sport’s cross-industry veterinary committee and supported by the Animal Health Trust, National Trainers Federation and UK Government.”
The governing body also confirmed the strain of the virus as ‘Florida Clade 1’, adding: “British horses are vaccinated against both Clade 1 and Clade 2, but this is clearly more virulent than the European strain and therefore able to affect vaccinated horses — although the vaccine will provide some protection.”
As for any potential resumption, the BHA indicated feature races lost this weekend at Newbury and Warwick may yet take place at a later date — and that plans for next month’s Cheltenham Festival, the highlight of the jumps calendar, remain as yet unaffected.
The statement added: “The BHA’s veterinary and race-planning teams are already planning for a variety of scenarios under which racing may recommence. This includes options for rescheduling meetings and races that have been cancelled.
“We are planning as normal for the Cheltenham Festival.”
The National Trainers Federation said in a tweet: “Today’s news shows @BHAPressOffice policy was the right initial response, which we support.
“No point in taking risks with the health of the horse population before the full picture is understood.”