Racing was rocked by late-night bad news for the second time in five days when it emerged that horses at a second stable, this time in Newmarket, have tested positive for equine influenza. Four cases of the highly contagious disease were discovered among the swab samples provided by the trainer Simon Crisford, throwing into jeopardy the hoped-for resumption of racing this week.
No racing has taken place since Wednesday when news broke that horses at Donald McCain’s yard had been found to have EI. However, hopes had steadily risen that the problem might be confined to his Cheshire base as the days ticked by without a positive finding elsewhere. By Sunday afternoon the British Horseracing Authority confirmed 1,500 tests from yards around Britain had all returned negative, bar the initial six from McCain’s.
But at 10.40pm the ruling body delivered grim tidings. “Four positive tests for equine influenza have been returned this evening in vaccinated thoroughbreds,” said a BHA statement.
Crisford was being named “in order to ensure that the Newmarket community is aware of the yard at which an infection has been identified. No non-urgent journeys should be made to this yard, including by the media.”
Crisford’s stable is Kremlin House on Newmarket’s Fordham Road, in the heart of the town’s training community. Several other stables are close by, presenting an obvious risk that the airborne disease may spread. Worryingly Crisford’s horses have not had an evident point of contact with McCain’s in the past fortnight, the two trainers not having had runners at the same race meeting during this time. Crisford was under lockdown only because he had a runner at Newcastle on Tuesday, which was identified as a risk fixture when horses in the care of Rebecca Menzies showed symptoms of EI. Every horse in Menzies’ yard has since tested negative for EI.
BHA officials still plan to convene on Monday evening to make a decision about whether racing should resume on Wednesday, when four fixtures are scheduled. Until last night’s revelation, there had been increasing optimism that a green light would be given, even though it appeared unlikely that test results would be available from all 174 stables currently under lockdown.
The Crisford positives appear to be a major complicating factor, without an obvious causal link to the previous cases. There is a clear possibility that more positives will be found in tests yet to be analysed and a risk that EI may even now be spreading through Britain’s largest racehorse community.
The counter-argument, which was already being made before Sunday’s news, is that it would be surprising if so many tests did not turn up a handful of positives at this time of year, even in a vaccinated population, considering that EI is endemic in Britain. Many racing professionals are keen for the sport to get back on its feet and start earning money once more and they are likely to say that 10 cases in only two yards should not becalm an entire industry.
The BHA promises a further update early on Monday, to include more details on action taken to contain EI within Crisford’s yard and also on how it will reach its decision about resumption. Earlier on Sunday the ruling body’s David Sykes, who serves as director of equine health, had suggested some yards may be released to compete in racing while others remained in lockdown, if test results had not yet shown the latter to be in the clear.
That, however, did not find favour with North Yorkshire’s Richard Fahey, who said he would “go ballistic” if his yard remained closed while others were allowed to open for business. A shortage of swabs in the area has meant only three of Fahey’s horses had been tested by Sunday morning, out of a total of 180 identified as potentially at risk after two horses from his stable competed at Newcastle.
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