Will Equine Flu Affect The Cheltenham Festival?

  • Written by Martina Maritato
Will Equine Flu Affect The Cheltenham Festival?
Cheltenham is the Home of Jump Racing and hosts a number of top quality race meetings each year, including the world famous National Hunt "Festival" in March every year. This year horse racing in the UK has been rocked after an outbreak of equine influenza has led to postponements at racecourses up and down the country.


The cancellations came as three horses, thought to be from Donald McCain’s stable, tested positive for flu, leading to the suspension of five races, potentially costing the industry £20million.

That could cast serious doubts over whether the Cheltenham Festival will go ahead.

Currently, racing has been suspended until at least next Wednesday (13 February), with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) now testing any horses that could have come into contact with those diagnosed.

Over the next few weeks there’s a jam-packed racecard to bet on across the nation as trainers and jockeys gear up for Cheltenham, with plenty to bet on for punters.

However, should the BHA uncover further infected horses it could throw the sport into doubt for the foreseeable future.

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With the Cheltenham Festival set to get underway on March 12, that could prove catastrophic and the most expensive postponement in the sport’s history.

It’s been 18 years since Cheltenham was last abandoned, due to the outbreak of foot and mouth and could cost the industry as much as £200million with a four-day abandonment.

It will certainly disrupt the preparations of many trainers, with a number of Cheltenham Festival hopefuls having expected to race over the last few days. That could have a major say in who are the favourites for the Gold Cup and it will be interesting to see just how much it could be affected.

It’s thought that around 110 horses are currently being tested, all of which could have seen cross-contamination at Ayr or Ludlow.

Once tested, and should no further horses have contracted the illness, the BHA will make a decision on how to go ahead, including the rescheduling of important events and giving the best opportunities for the horses to run.

A decision on whether racing can resume on Wednesday February 13 will be made on Monday (11).

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A full statement from the British Horseracing Authority read:

“The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has this afternoon taken the decision that racing will not resume in Britain until Wednesday 13 February at the earliest, including fixtures programmed by the Point-to-Point Authority.

The BHA’s veterinary team has today been in contact with more than 50 trainers and veterinarians to allow it to make an informed assessment of the risk of equine influenza spreading. Whilst no further positive tests have been received, at least three more days are required before it will be possible to make a decision about whether it is safe to resume racing.

The disease can take up to three days before symptoms are visible, meaning it will take until Sunday at the earliest before the BHA can gather all the information required. This approach will allow samples to be collected and assessed by the Animal Health Trust in order that a fully informed decision can be made on Monday. This may then allow declarations to take place on Tuesday in time for racing on Wednesday, with 24 hour declarations for all fixtures on this day, should racing be able to resume. Declarations for Thursday would revert to the usual procedures.

We are grateful to trainers and veterinarians for the rapid flow of information and feedback  we have received today. Because of this, we have been able to make an informed decision earlier than we expected and before we have any test results back from horses from the affected yards that travelled to the three meetings.

Trainers support a precautionary approach and we thank them for the collaborative manner in which they have worked with us to address this unfolding situation.

This precautionary approach is intended to ensure we put the health of the horse population and control of the virus first, and avoid any unnecessary risk that might come from returning to racing too quickly. We appreciate the impact that this may have on the sport commercially, but disease control in order to mitigate the risk of further disruption to the sport – and safeguard the health and welfare of our horses – must be a priority.

A plan will be constructed for the rescheduling of key races – and those which may provide important opportunities for horses to run – which are lost during this period,

Separately, as a precaution, all of the trainers who had runners at the fixtures at Wolverhampton, Ludlow and Ayr this week have been informed that their yards have been placed under a temporary hold which means that they will not be able to make any declarations until their horses have been tested and cleared.”

Statement made on February 7, 2019.

Bet & Skill will continue to provide our loyal punters with all the latest information as it comes in on the horse racing page.

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