Horse flu halts Australian racing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 August, 2007, 12:00am

Horse racing and equestrian events have been shut down throughout Australia as officials battle to contain an outbreak of equine influenza.

The outbreak in Sydney is the first in Australia's history and prompted a precautionary 72-hour halt to all horse racing in the country yesterday as well as a ban on the movement of horses. It is the second serious outbreak of equine flu in the Asia-Pacific region following a similar problem in Japan over the past month that forced the cancellation of many race meetings.

Hong Kong is under no apparent threat from the outbreak, but Jockey Club officials said they would be watching developments closely.

The Jockey Club's top vet, Brian Stewart, who is in Australia, said: 'Hong Kong imports horses from a number of countries where equine influenza is known, but they are subject to rigid quarantine protocols, both in Hong Kong and their country of origin, to make sure they are disease-free.

'The important difference between Australia and Hong Kong is that the disease is unknown in Australia and the horse population is not immunised against it. In Hong Kong, all horses are vaccinated against equine influenza every six months. So Australia has a very naive horse population, in terms of this disease, and the potential for damage is far greater.'

At the request of Racing Victoria, Stanley Ho Hung-sun's champion racehorse Viva Pataca and his stablemate Viva Macau, which were due to fly to Melbourne today to prepare for the Cox Plate Races, have had their departure delayed by a week.

The source of the Sydney outbreak may have been a stallion in quarantine on the outskirts of the city returning from a shuttle stud season in Japan. Yesterday, however, 11 horses stabled at Sydney's Centennial Park showed signs of the illness.