The UK racing industry is at a standstill after an outbreak of equine influenza forced the suspension of all racing activity.
On Wednesday, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced that racing would be shut down at all British racecourses on Thursday. The decision was made after the Animal Health Trust identified three confirmed cases of equine influenza among vaccinated horses at an active racing yard.
Horses from the infected yard raced Wednesday at the Ayr and Ludlow courses, potentially exposing “a significant number” of horses across the UK and Ireland. The BHA said it was communicating with yards whose horses may have been exposed to the virus but admitted that “the full extent of potential exposure is unknown.”
On Thursday, the BHA announced that racing would not resume in Britain until next Wednesday (13) “at the earliest.” The BHA said a decision on whether to allow racing to continue on Wednesday would be made on Monday (11) following “further scientific advice and discussions with participants.”
The BHA said no further influenza cases had so far been identified but the disease can take up to three days before symptoms are visible. The fact that the current strain appears resistant to the vaccine “presents a cause for significant concern over welfare and the potential spread of the disease.”
The Cheltenham Festival, a marquee event on Britain’s racing calendar, is scheduled to kick off on March 12th, putting extra pressure on the BHA’s investigators to ensure a clean bill of health for the sport’s four-legged participants.
Even if Cheltenham goes ahead as planned, the UK’s betting industry is looking at a multi-million pound hit to its revenue. The most recent UK Gambling Commision statistics showed racing generated £610m in online betting revenue alone in the 12 months to March 2018.
While UK bookmakers can make up some of that loss by transferring race bettors’ affections to international meets, the perpetually struggling UK racing industry can ill afford any interruption to its cash-flow. Throw in the expected decline in media rights revenue as UK gambling operators close thousands of betting shops and you’ve got the makings of a perfect equine storm.