Company Reorganization

Vets blunder over disease

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 12:00am

Unbelievable veterinary blunders have threatened the health of the racing industries in Hong Kong and Australia, seriously embarrassed the Government and the Hong Kong Jockey Club and left quarantine protocols with Australia hanging in the balance.

The former David Hayes-trained Casa Grande was recently exported to Australia despite the Jockey Club's veterinary department, and then the relevant Government department, possessing documentary evidence that he was carrying the disease piroplasmosis, or equine babesiosis.

In its extreme form the tick-borne protozoa kills, or can cause listlessness, fever, anaemia, jaundice, colic and eye haemorrhages.

At a sub-acute level it causes anorexia, dullness and lack of exercise tolerance. It is believed it hasn't been present in Australia since 1976 - until Casa Grande arrived.

Senior Jockey Club management are known to be appalled by the blunders within their veterinary department and immediately commissioned a full audit into the way the department is run.

Director of racing Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said: 'This is a very serious matter. We have already initiated a full review of all the procedures within the veterinary department.

'It should never have happened. It is not acceptable.' Chief veterinary officer Keith Watkins declined to comment on how his vets made such an horrendous oversight.

Casa Grande was blood-tested twice for piroplasmosis before leaving for Australia. It is known the first test came back marked 'suspicious' by the world-renowned Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, England, and the second was a clear positive to the disease.

Despite these two tests, two Jockey Club vets and a government vet somehow contrived to sign off Casa Grande as clear for export. The positive to piroplasmosis was only picked up once the four-year-old gelding arrived in Australia.

Engelbrecht-Bresges confirmed that 350 horses were blood tested on Tuesday as the Jockey Club attempts to prove to the racing world that Hong Kong remains a piroplasmosis-free area, Casa Grande notwithstanding.

The blood tests were immediately dispatched to the Animal Heath Trust where 75 per day can be analysed.

The first results will be known next week.

The Club has vowed to test all 1,538 horses at Sha Tin and in its riding schools.

This unimaginable blunder by Jockey Club and government vets could not have come at a worse time.

One of the main thrusts of Engelbrecht-Bresges' keynote speech to the recent Asian Racing Conference in Singapore was 'to restructure the existing quarantine regulations for our top international horses'.

It remains to be seen whether any restructuring can occur. Anything that can be salvaged will depend on the results of the blood tests.

But it cannot be taken for granted that they will all come back negative as while piroplasmosis cannot be passed directly from horse to horse, one of the three tick families that transmit the disease - rhipicephalus - is present in Hong Kong and responsible for the endemic canine version of the disease.

Piroplasmosis is common in Africa, where it is carried by zebras as well as horses, and it is in South Africa that Casa Grande raced before joining the Hayes stable.

He was screened for piroplasmosis in America before coming here, but the screening is nowhere near as thorough as a blood test. Once here, he was a flop, finishing unplaced in all nine starts.

The horse will now be put down in Australia.