Second blow for Musselburgh as flu forces racing into total shutdown

Musselburgh has lost its richest jumps meeting of the year twice, first to frost and now an outbreak of equine flu which has crippled British racing. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Musselburgh has lost its richest jumps meeting of the year twice, first to frost and now an outbreak of equine flu which has crippled British racing. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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Officials at Musselburgh are philosophical over the loss of their richest jumps meeting on Sunday after the British Horseracing Authority announced there would be no racing until next Wednesday at the earliest due to an outbreak of equine flu.

It was a second blow to the East Lothian course as the meeting had been rescheduled after it was lost to the weather last weekend.

Musselburgh general manager Bill Farnsworth said: "We are naturally disappointed at losing our richest jumps racing fixture this weekend, but the racing community is working together to minimise the spread of equine influenza and the decision by the BHA to cancel racing is without doubt the correct one.

"The industry does prepare for scenarios such as these and I am confident that the stringent procedures which are in place across the UK will ensure that racing is back and up running as soon as it is safe to do so.

"A decision will be taken on Monday by the BHA as to when racing will resume, and if our next meeting scheduled for Wednesday goes ahead as planned, there will be free admission for all."

Newbury, where the Betfair Hurdle was the feature race on Saturday, was the most high-profile card to be lost.

However, at this time of year racecourses are used to fixtures being abandoned, usually due to a cold snap.

Newbury's head of communications Harriet Collins said: "While it is very disappointing to lose Betfair Super Saturday, which is always well attended by racing fans, equine welfare comes first and we take complete guidance from the BHA on such matters.

"Unfortunately we are a sport which is prone to adverse weather and abandonments happen slightly more frequently over the winter.

"As a result, we have put in the necessary contingencies ahead of racing so insurances are in place and all our ticket purchasers will be receiving notification that they will be refunded within the next 14 days."

The planned meeting at Wolverhampton on Saturday was abandoned before the BHA announcement because a horse from the infected yard was a runner on Monday's card.

"The BHA asked Wolverhampton to undertake a deep clean of their stables and there are protocols in place where when you have done a deep clean, you have to leave the stables for a certain amount of time. It's four days before you can use them," said Sam Cone, Arena's PR and communications manager.

This outbreak has come just five weeks before the Cheltenham Festival, the biggest betting meeting of the year - and while the bookmakers can absorb a short period of inaction, a longer break would sound the alarm bells.

"If racing resumed next Wednesday, it would be frustrating but it wouldn't be a disaster. Beyond that, it's hard to speculate," said David Stevens of Coral.

"It's disappointing to lose the Newbury card at the weekend, but I'm sure the BHA and Newbury and everyone involved will look at rearranging it. There are precedents of rearranging cards and I'm sure they would want to reschedule, but it's hard to speculate beyond that date of next Wednesday.

"This time of year we factor in losing a certain amount of meetings.

"From our point of view for our customers, there might be more international racing we can work into our shops. Short term we can also fill gaps.

"Clearly we would welcome a resumption of racing as soon as is safely possible and everybody will be working towards that."