Hits Keep Coming Down Under Because of Virus

Magic Millions, which conducts the largest movement of yearlings in Australia with its eight-day sale each January, said the sale won't take place as previously advertised because of the equine influenza outbreak.

The landscape of breeding and racing in New South Wales and Queensland has been marred horribly by equine influenza this year. But it appears the landscape will be totally shaken up and remade next year as the ramifications of EI reach across time.

The traditional pilgrimage to the always-sunny Queensland Gold Coast for the Southern Hemisphere’s first major yearling sale of the year will not happen in 2008. Magic Millions, which conducts the largest movement of yearlings with its eight-day sale each January, has acknowledged the sale won’t take place as previously advertised.

“More likely late February or early March,” Magic Millions chief executive officer David Chester said of the sale schedule. “We are meeting with race clubs both in New South Wales and Queensland to work out a suitable date, and we may have a new date this weekend.”

Many breeders and buyers aren’t unhappy about the change because January on the Gold Coast is very hot, and the sale is held during the school holidays, which results in accommodations being both more expensive and limited.

The movement means neighboring New Zealand will be the benchmark sale for the world as its Karaka Premier auction will be the first major event on the world’s yearling calendar. And it should be an absolute runaway windfall.

“We are nervously anticipating we will have a lot more Australian buyers over here,” said New Zealand Bloodstock marketing manager Petrea Vela, who is refusing to get carried away. Karaka has experienced astonishing gross receipts for consecutive years in this decade, and the early signs are they will be massive in 2008 as a result of EI in Australia.

But the devastation the EI bug has caused New South Wales and Queensland racing is now going to grossly affect the scheduling of major race days next year. The Sydney Turf Club and the Australian Jockey Club, based in Sydney, will move their major autumn carnivals next year, according to officials who met Sept. 24 in Sydney to discuss strategic planning.

Meanwhile, just when it looked like things might be on the improve in Queensland, it was learned Brisbane’s two main tracks--Eagle Farm and Doomben, the courses that house the bulk of the horses in training in Queensland-- suffered another blow with more cases of EI being reported overnight. The tracks have been completely locked down after Queensland Racing received advice from the Department Of Primary Industries and Fisheries that “initial samples taken from horses trained at Doomben and stabled at nearby Hendra have returned positive to equine influenza.”

Said Queensland Racing chief operations manager Malcolm Tuttle: “If indeed our worst fears are realized, and it looks like they will be, this will be a considerable setback for Thoroughbred racing in Queensland.”