Equine Influenza in Australia Could Affect Melbourne Cup

The spread of equine influenza in Australia may cause the country's most prestigious race, the Melbourne Cup (Aust-I), to be run two weeks later than its customary date for the first time in the 120-year history of the event.

The equine virus is spreading throughout Australia, and there will not be any racing or movement of horses in the country for at least another week. This prompted officials with Racing Victoria, host of the fabled group I Melbourne Cup, to consider postponing the race two weeks.  It is traditionally run the first Tuesday in November.

At last call, 47 horses had tested positive for equine influenza in New South Wales and three were ill in Queensland. Those numbers may escalate as horses across the country continue to be tested.

Peter McGauran, the Federal Minister For Fisheries and Agriculture, confirmed the Melbourne Cup may be moved if racing doesn't commence in Victoria before September.

"It is better to have a deferred Cup than no Cup at all," McGauran said.

The gambling agencies in Australia estimate close to $300 million will be lost if racing does not resume by Saturday. That figure, however, pales in comparison with the breeding season equation.

Sept. 1 is the official start of breeding for Thoroughbreds in the Southern Hemisphere, and the hub of breeding is New South Wales. A blanket ban on movement of horses to and from New South Wales will remain in force until at least next weekend. The lockdown could devastate Australia's breeding and racing industries if it continues more than a month.

Mares at farms where stallions are located will be allowed to be covered, but Redoute's Choice, the premier stallion in Australia at a fee of $330,000, is based at Arrowfield Stud in New South Wales. Also affected are stallions that shuttled from the Northern Hemisphere and had not yet been released from quarantine.

Ian McDonald, Federal Primary Industries Minister, said members of the Thoroughbred industry have been supportive of the government's actions. "They have been exceptional, and there hasn't been one incident of anyone in that industry breaking the lockdown ban at this point."

Those who violate the ban face a potential jail term of one year and fines up to $44,000.

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