The racing and breeding industries in Australia took an almighty turn for the worse in the early hours of Aug. 25, when the government stopped movement of horses across the country because of a diagnosis of equine influenza.
In an unprecedented move in Australia, race meetings in New South Wales and Queensland have been abandoned for at least 72 hours. Many fear the ban may extend far longer.
With the start of the breeding season set for Sept. 1, the blanket ban of racing in two states means massive upheavals and millions of dollars in service fees lost. More than $3 million in purses will not be raced for, either, and in NSW there were five black type races set down for Royal Randwick alone. Among them was the AUS $220,000 Warwick Stakes (gr. II), in which champion Racing To Win was to resume from a spell against former U.S. star galloper Honour In War.
Ian Macdonald, Minister for Primary Industries, said preliminary test results indicated 11 horses at Centennial Park in NSW had likely been infected with exotic equine influenza. The tests, performed the night of Aug. 24 by the state government’s Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute laboratory, returned positive results.
“As a result, the state government has taken the unprecedented action of calling a complete standstill on the movement of horses in NSW,” Macdonald said, adding that there have never been reported cases of humans contracting equine influenza.
“Horses cannot move from the property (where) they are located until more is known about the location of the disease. If animals are in transit, owners can take them on to their destination, or back to their property of origin – whichever is the safest and most sensible option,” he said.
“The smallest amount of risk is too much when it comes to exotic diseases finding their way into our country. That is why the state government has moved quickly to respond and stop the disease from spreading.”
Andrew Harding, CEO of the Australian Racing Board, confirmed Aug. 25 that racing in NSW and Queensland would be halted and that mares will not be able to visit stud farms in NSW until the ban is lifted. The timing could not be any worse, with the breeding season set to begin Sept. 1.
“It seems the 11 horses infected at Centennial Park contracted the virus following a visit from someone who had been with the quarantined stallions in Eastern Creek,” said Harding. He would not specify where the infected shuttle stallion came from but did confirm that it was not from Japan.
Had the virus affecting one of the overseas shuttlers been kept within the quarantined area, racing would have been allowed to take place this weekend. But experts surmise the virus was inadvertently carried on clothing from the quarantined area at Eastern Creek back to the popular horse population in Sydney’s Centennial Park. Early screening tests revealed the outbreak.
Authorities across Australia are expected to join force over the weekend to ensure no movement of Thoroughbreds occurs.
“We are taking this threat extremely seriously and had no other option but to call the standstill, which will unfortunately cause a number of racing and other horse activities to be canceled,” said McDonald.
“Protection of the state’s horse industries is our priority, and we will be working tirelessly in the days and weeks ahead to prevent equine influenza (from) spreading.”
McDonald underscored that “destruction of horses is not necessary in the control of this disease. The main control strategy is to stop the movement of infected horses.”
He added that equine influenza is not a killer disease. On average, affected animals recover within 10 days, but a spread of the virus, he said, “would have a disastrous impact on our horse breeding and racing industries.
“Australia is one of a few countries with significant equine industries that are free from equine influenza. We must act swiftly to prevent further spread.”