Aussie Champion Stricken With Equine Influenza

Just when the newly created “purple zone” in Australia’s New South Wales was to reinvigorate the beleaguered breeding season, the country's star stallion has been stricken with equine influenza.

Arrowfield Stud's Redoute's Choice (Danehill-Shantha's Choice) is the hottest ticket in town. He is also the most expensive at AUS$330,000 a serve, but on the very day he was given the green light to start serving mares, he couldn’t.

Said his studmaster and part-owner John Messara, the mastermind in creating the purple zone: “Yes, sadly it is true. (Redoute's Choice) contracted the equine influenza virus on Wednesday, along with the other star stallions standing at our Scone property.” They include last year's Australian champion Flying Spur and international superstar Starcraft.

All are expected to be in action in a week or so.

Coolmore is taking no chances and has sent another three of its star shuttlers home: Danehill Dancer, Holy Roman Emperor, and Ivan Denisovich, all outstanding sons of the deceased Danehill. They will head back to Ireland immediately.

Nonetheless, it appears the NSW breeding season may get under way after all this year, following the late evening announcement Sept. 20 by the government that the breeding of mares in that state can begin at lunchtime Sept. 21.

The mares will be transferred under the purple zone agreement and will stay there after being served until the government allows them to return home. That could be several months.

The purple zone is a “special restricted area” that the government has deemed largely infected with the EI virus. High containment and biosecurity measures are applied to movements out of the area. Horses may move into the zone with a permit but cannot leave until authorized to do so.

Said John Messara, president of the NSW Breeders; "While the new arrangements will not suit all breeders, the establishment of this zone will allow the NSW industry to at least conduct a breeding season in 2007. Breeders should note that despite these new arrangements being brought into place at 12 noon on Friday, movement onto any property will be dependent upon the bio-security requirements of the recipient property."

Those requirements, plus the fact this is all so very new to everyone, could pose some problems.

As for the stallions stranded at Eastern Creek's quarantine facility, the government has stated that if a stallion is exhibiting absolutely no signs of EI, he may be granted permission to travel to the purple zone to cover mares. But he must pass a stringent risk assessment and be granted a travel permit.

While happy about this major breakthrough, breeders are gearing for mares and foals to be stationed at farms in the purple zone into the new year.

Local Thoroughbred vets are urging, if at all possible, that broodmare owners wean the foals early and leave them at home. Transporting them to the purple zone would add further risk.

And the government has imposed a travel deadline: Mares must be in the purple zone by Oct. 19.

The Local Disease Centre will determine who is eligible for a travel permit, which must be obtained before moving a mare to the zone.

Interstate mares, even if they come from areas unaffected by EI, will be under the same rules as NSW mares and must stay in the purple zone until the ban on travel is lifted.

Owners will bear enormous costs under this new setup, one being the total and satisfactory disinfecting of trucks that shipped their mares to the purple zone. No trucks will be able to leave that zone before undertaking a thorough washing and disinfectant program.

Movement of all breeds of horses will be permitted into the purple zone providing the permits have been granted to such animals.

It is a major start for an industry that is reeling under the enormity of being still. Major stallions such as Redoute's Choice, Flying Spur, Fusaichi Pegasus , More Than Ready , Starcraft and Mossman are in the purple zone and each is expected to cover close to 200 mares this year.