Ferraris fears for Vengeance over virus

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 April, 2007, 12:00am

Champion's QE II campaign in balance

Trainer David Ferraris yesterday admitted his concern for the welfare of champion Vengeance Of Rain after losing four horses from Sunday's Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup programme - three of them probable victims of equine herpes virus (EHV).

The 2005 QE II hero and last-start winner of the US$5 million Dubai Sheema Classic is housed on another level from where the virus victims are stabled, but the disease is unnerving the champion South African handler in the countdown to Sunday's race.

Vengeance Of Rain's head-to-head clash with Japan's Admire Moon is the linchpin of the Jockey Club's promotion for the QE II and it would be a disaster if the six-time Group One winner was withdrawn.

'This virus has hit three of the horses I'd entered for Sunday and they are all pre-declaration withdrawals,' Ferraris said. 'They were all in the lower floor of my stable block, and Vengeance Of Rain lives on the upper level,' Ferraris said. 'He's separated from them and I'm just hoping everything will be OK.'

A fourth horse in the Ferraris yard, Crusader Of Gold, was found to be lame on Tuesday.

Chris Riggs, the head of the club's equine clinical services, said the Ferraris yard had been 'one of the hardest hit' by the virus, which seems to have gained some impetus with this week's change of weather.

Since the last announcement on April 8 that 132 horses had come down with EHV, it is understood symptoms have been reported in another 30 to 35 horses.

'We have all been on high alert and the procedures have been well documented,' Riggs said. 'But those horses that have been infected have recovered very quickly, they are back to normal in a couple of days and returning to full work after about five days.'

Ferraris said Vengeance Of Rain had come through his QE II preparation 'with flying colours' and would have his final gallop this morning. But his concerns remain. 'We've come a long way and we're almost there,' he said. 'The horse is fine and I just hope he stays that way.'

Paul O'Sullivan-trained Best Gift was the latest defection from the QE II when he was withdrawn on veterinary advice yesterday. Best Gift, runner-up to Irridescence in last year's QE II, has swelling and lameness in his right front fetlock joint.

The virus outbreak had its origins in February, but was thought at the time to have been limited to a couple of horses in the John Moore yard and some of the Jockey Club lead ponies.

But in recent weeks, the number of horses running high temperatures has continued to grow, spurred by sharp changes in the weather, and just about every stable at Sha Tin has had at least one or two horses come down with symptoms.

The club's head of veterinary regulation, Brian Stewart, said at the time the spread of the virus appeared to have been through a relatively slow horse-equipment-horse process, rather than being airborne, which would have spread more quickly.

'In my view, the vaccination programme has really done its job because the onset of a virus like this has the potential to be a lot worse than this has been,' Stewart said.

High-profile victims include world number one sprinter Absolute Champion and Moore's Group One winner Joyful Winner.

Joyful Winner was also a source of great encouragement for the owners of infected horses, as he recovered quickly and came back to win a second Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at Group One level.