Newbury meeting a casualty of equine flu outbreak as Horse Racing Authorities shut down sport

By Jamie Hill - 21 February 2019

Sport

The valuable Newbury Super Saturday card was among 23 horse racing meetings cancelled in the UK by the sport's governing body, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), following an outbreak of the contagious virus equine flu.

A six-day halt to horse racing up and down the country in a bid to prevent an epidemic meant the Berkshire racecourse - just 30 miles across the North Downs from Swindon - could not stage one of its premier fixtures.

Half-a-dozen horses trained by Donald McCain at his Cheshire stables tested positive for equine flu, and that yard had runners at Wolverhampton on the all-weather, and Ludlow and Ayr over jumps during the week it was discovered.

Further cases were also reported in Simon Crisford's Newmarket yard, and over 150 other horse racing trainers had their premises locked down in a bid to prevent the virus from spreading. 

Following extensive further testing by vets, the BHA resumed its programme, but with new restrictions in place regarding which horses can run. Only horses vaccinated within the last six months are allowed to compete.

"We are clearly disappointed," Newbury racecourse chief executive Julian Thick said. "It is a major meeting for us, but horse welfare comes first."

Ascot, another Berkshire racecourse, has since agreed to stage the Denman Chase and Betfair Hurdle as part of a bumper nine-race card on their own Grade 1 Ascot Chase day.

The BHA's decision to suspend horse racing temporarily came just weeks before the Cheltenham Festival takes place, but there was never any suggestion that the jumps calendar's major championship fixture was under any threat.

Losing the Newbury card from its traditional slot in early February is still a blow, however, as major contenders for big races at the Festival use the meeting for final prep runs. Horses that won the Denman Chase and Game Spirit Chase - both Grade 2 events - went on to Cheltenham glory last season.

Native River, who has won the Denman Chase over about three miles in each of the last two seasons, captured the Cheltenham Gold Cup last March for West Country handler Colin Tizzard, having previously finished third. He will now head straight for the Festival without that traditional prep run.

Registered in England & Wales. No: 4513027, at Arclite House, Hillmead, Swindon SN5 5YN