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They’re off: Racing shuts down over horse flu

Nowhere to ride:
Exercises at a
Worcestershire
yard yesterday PICTURES: GETTY/PA

A HORSE flu crisis has forced all racing across Britain into a six-day shutdown, with fears mounting for next month’s showpiece Cheltenham Festival.

The outbreak prompted authorities to rein in meetings until Wednesday at the earliest, costing the sport millions of pounds in lost revenue.

Punters have been offered ticket refunds, with at least 180 races axed. Shares in betting firms fell but the Association of British Bookmakers said: ‘Clearly the welfare of horses is our primary concern and our thoughts are with all the stables and individuals involved. We welcome the swift action of the British Horseracing Authority and are hopeful for a quick resolution.’

Deserted: Doncaster

The shutdown was ordered after three horses went down with equine flu at trainer Donald McCain’s Backhouse Stables in Cheshire.

He said: ‘When new horses arrive at our yard we, as much as possible, try to keep them separate but at this stage cannot know if the infection came from recent arrivals or from horses returning from racing. We have three confirmed cases, and this morning have taken blood and swabs from all the others for testing.’

Samples were being collected from stables nationwide by the Animal Health Trust for tests at the weekend. The BHA said: ‘This precautionary approach is intended to ensure we put the health of the horses first.’

If the shutdown lasts six days, losses will be an estimated £20million. Races at Doncaster were among those axed yesterday. Cheltenham, which draws thousands of fans from Britain and Ireland, is due to start on March 12.