A six-day ban on horseracing in the UK will end on Wednesday — but with strict biosecurity controls in force as the sport keeps up efforts to contain an outbreak of equine influenza.
The British Horseracing Authority said late on Monday that it believed that swift controls on the movement of horses had clearly helped to restrict the spread of the virulent virus.
“Clearly, there is some risk associated with returning to racing,” said the BHA’s chief regulatory officer, Brant Dunshea. “This risk has been assessed and, based on the evidence — and ensuring biosecurity measures are in place — the level of risk is viewed as acceptable.”
Two scheduled jump fixtures will go ahead at Musselburgh and Plumpton on 13 February, as well as all-weather fixtures at Southwell and Kempton.
The BHA had shut down the racing calendar for six days since last Thursday after the discovery of the virus at a yard in Cheshire whose horses had competed in races earlier in the week.
There was concern over the possible spread of the virus as it was identified in vaccinated animals, suggesting the strain had developed an immunity to the existing inoculation. All stables across the UK have been told to observe quarantine and biosecurity measures.
A comprehensive testing programme has been running since the ban was introduced with more than 2,100 horses tested at 174 or the UK’s 530 yards.
As part of the controlled return, the BHA will list individual trainers by the level of risk they have been exposed to. The organisation will contact yards on Tuesday morning to let them know if they are free to run.
Though not usually fatal, equine flu is a damaging respiratory virus and is highly infectious. Symptoms include high fever, coughing and nasal discharge, with recovery potentially taking weeks. Humans in contact with the disease are not at risk though they can transmit the virus, which can also spread through the air over a distance of up to a mile.
Horseracing is worth about £1.1bn to the UK economy annually, according to a 2013 study by Deloitte. It is one of the top two biggest betting sports, alongside football, in the UK. In 2017 horseracing generated £9.1bn in bets, according to Global Betting and Gaming Consultants.
The initial cancellation hit the shares in the big bookmakers — William Hill, Paddy Power Betfair and GVC — sending them all down by more than 2 per cent, with a mixed performance in the past two trading days.
William Hill said before the announcement from the BHA, that it had seen “some impact” from the loss of British racing but emphasised it was not unusual for races to be cancelled at this time of year. Paddy Power Betfair and GVC, owner of Ladbrokes and Corals, declined to comment.