Victoria to Race But Virus Outbreak Far From Over

The Thoroughbred industry in Austrailia continues to battle with equine influenza, for which almost 700 horses are being monitored.

Racing Victoria has breathed a huge breath of fresh air into the Thoroughbred industry in Australia by going against the recommendations of its sister states in the wake of an equine influenza outbreak, but the problems is far from resolved.

The Victorian governing body has decided to race Saturday, Sept. 1, providing there are no Thoroughbreds that test positive for EI in Victoria between now and then. New South Wales and Queensland officials, however, are maintaining a prohibition on the movement of horses.

There are now 680 horses being monitored for EI, officials said.

“Everyone is still stunned and totally helpless,” said Anthony Cummings, president of the Randwick Trainers’ Association in New South Wales.

Randwick, the premier New South Wales racetrack, was shut down Aug. 27 after three horses from the Gai Waterhouse stable and one trained by Bart Cummings returned elevated temperatures and were feared to have equine influenza. When tested Aug. 28, they revealed clean bills of health.

But no movement outside the track is allowed. The 700 horses in training at Randwick were confined to their stables before test results cleared the sick horses of EI. They can, however, train.

And despite the news from Victoria, New South Wales government officials along with the Department of Primary Industries remain steadfast in their banning of all movement of horses until at least Sept. 3.

The Melbourne Cup (Aust-I) will not be moved as previously suggested--great news for horse trainers in Victoria, but not-so-good news for  horses trained in New South Wales and Queensland. Bart Cummings shipped 16 of his star horses to Victoria just three days before the lockdown of New South Wales horses was enforced. And while thousands of people throughout Australia are experiencing tremendous discomfort as a result of the lockdown, the problem is even reaching political leaders the world over.

The EI bug has spread to the New South Wales police force, and the virus has managed to disrupt the Sept. 7 APEC conference of world leaders that includes United States President George W. Bush.

Many horses, all retired Thoroughbreds, were in heavy training to carry police during the APEC conference so traffic levels would be decreased, but the lockdown has forced the department to look at new measures. As of Aug. 28, six Thoroughbreds used by police had tested positive for the EI strain.

Horse movement within New South Wales and Queensland is nowhere near ready to resume. And with the $35-million Spring Carnival in Sydney due to start the weekend of Sept. 1, it could prove to be an almost insurmountable problem for many. The New South Wales Thoroughbred industry has called on the federal government to declare a national disaster.

Many New South Wales stud farms have extended the books for their colonial stallions as 42 world-class shuttle stallions remain in quarantine indefinitely. Meanwhile, it appears the problem is spreading in New South Wales; the State Disease Control Center for the current equine influenza outbreak has said five more properties were declared infected, which brings the total to 16.

“These properties were previously suspect and had a high probability of being infected,” New South Wales deputy chief veterinary officer Ian Roth, said. “These properties were all part of our tracing program that is investigating the movement of horses at risk of having infection. We are now monitoring more than 35 suspect properties which are under lockdown.”