Irish racing chiefs try to calm Cheltenham fears over equine flu
Racing chiefs have insisted the Cheltenham Festival is not under threat after an outbreak of equine flu plunged the British horseracing industry into crisis.
Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh said the situation in the UK was a "concern" but maintained that racing would continue as normal. With the massive Cheltenham Festival kicking off on March 12, the outbreak of equine flu in the UK is a major worry for trainers on both sides of the Irish Sea.
The cancellation of all race meetings until next Wednesday at least will cost the British horseracing industry millions of euro. However, the authorities insist there's no immediate threat to next month's Cheltenham Festival.
The meeting traditionally attracts the cream of Irish horses and is also a massive draw for punters.
Equine influenza affects horses in a similar way to humans and it is not generally dangerous or life-threatening to any animals other than the very young, the very old or those whose health is already compromised.
The outbreak is understood to have been detected in the yard of Donald McCain, the son of the legendary Red Rum trainer Ginger McCain.
More than 100 stables which might have come into contact with infected horses, including top trainers Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls, were put into lockdown late on Wednesday night as the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) called off all meetings with immediate effect.
In a statement last night, the BHA said it would wait until Monday before deciding on any resumption of racing.
"The disease can take up to three days before symptoms are visible, meaning it will take until Sunday at the earliest before the BHA can gather all the information required," it said.
British runners have been barred from entering Irish races in the wake of the outbreak, but Mr Kavanagh insisted that racing would continue as normal on these shores. Thurles' national hunt card went ahead yesterday as planned, as Dundalk will tonight.
"It's a concern but racing goes ahead and we're liaising closely with the UK authorities," he told the Irish Independent.
"There's no reason for racing not to continue in Ireland and we're hopeful that they'll get racing back going in the UK very quickly.
"I think what they've done is a precautionary measure.
"We're delighted that we're able to continue racing and keep the show on the road as normal as possible.
"The UK authorities will I presume resume racing in the near future and Cheltenham is not a concern in that respect.
"I think Cheltenham without any Irish horses wouldn't be Cheltenham."