The end is in sight of the tense quarantine stand-off between Hong Kong and Australia.
Australian authorities have requested to officially tour the Jockey Club’s Conghua training facility in mainland China, marking one of the final steps required to restore previous biosecurity regulations between the two jurisdictions.
The Post understands the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) has written to Chinese officials requesting to visit the site and are awaiting a response. It is likely any such visit would take around one week to complete.
DAWR had previously been awaiting a response to a series of questions from China to give insight into the biosecurity protocols around the facility before making a visit.
“DAWR has completed its desktop assessment of the information supplied in answer to its questionnaires and is now moving on to the next stage of the evaluation, which is to carry out the in-country visit,” Jockey Club executive director of racing Andrew Harding confirmed.
“Following the site visit to the Conghua Equine Disease Free Zone and Hong Kong, a report will be written up by the DAWR inspection team.
“The final stage is for the report to be shared and agreement reached on the health certificate.”
It was the construction of Conghua that brought the previous biosecurity agreements to a screeching halt in October 2017, with Australian authorities since requiring horses travelling from Hong Kong to spend 180 days in a third country out of fear horses may be carrying equine diseases from China.
The Jockey Club has gone to significant lengths to ensure the Conghua facility is a “bubble” of Hong Kong, meaning the same procedures take place at both Sha Tin and the mainland.
The request to tour the facility, should it be granted by China, is one of the biggest developments in the long-running saga which has made it very difficult for many horses to compete internationally.
While interim arrangements were agreed upon in March in time for Australian horses to compete at Champions Day this season, it still did not allow for Hong Kong horses to travel to Australia freely.
“This is a significant positive development,” Harding said.
“It comes on the back of the agreement reached in March this year on interim protocols that permit Australian runners that participate in races in Hong Kong to travel directly back to Australia.
“DAWR is continuing to give high priority to the issue and the end is in sight.”
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While the request is a significant development, it is highly unlikely that previous regulations will be restored in time for Hong Kong trainer Caspar Fownes to take his horse Southern Legend to Australia for the lucrative spring carnival.
Fownes had previously expressed interest in taking his well-travelled six-year-old Down Under but will now likely be forced to look for other options.
Japanese mare Lys Gracieux is one of the latest casualties from the drama, with connections unable to travel to Melbourne to race in the Group One Cox Plate (2,040m) in October after racing in Hong Kong’s QE II Cup in April.