All horses races in Britain have been cancelled on Thursday due to an outbreak of equine flu.
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) made the decision on Wednesday evening after the Animal Health Trust confirmed three positives tests from vaccinated horses in an active racing yard.
The horses from the infected yard had raced earlier in the day at Ayr and Ludlow, potentially exposing other horses across the country and in Ireland to the disease.
The BHA said that the identification of the virus in vaccinated horses presented a “cause for significant concern”.
In a statement, it said: “The action to cancel racing has been viewed as necessary in order to restrict, as far as possible, the risk of further spread of the disease.
“The BHA has worked quickly to identify which yards could have potentially been exposed today and identify the further actions required.
“The BHA is presently communicating with yards potentially exposed to ensure appropriate quarantine and biosecurity measures are put in place and horse movements restricted to avoid possible further spread of the disease.
“The full extent of potential exposure is unknown and we are working quickly to understand as much as we can to assist our decision-making.”
Donald McCain has confirmed he is the trainer who has three confirmed cases of equine flu in his Cheshire yard.
He added in a statement: “We would never race any horses that we could have known were infected ... at this stage cannot know if the infection came from recent arrivals or from horses returning from racing.”
The action to cancel Thursday’s races was taken with unanimous support of the BHA’s industry veterinary committee and will affect meetings at Huntingdon, Doncaster, Ffos Las and Chelmsford.
Equine influenza is a highly infectious disease of horses, mules and donkeys. Symptoms in non–immune animals include high fever, coughing and nasal discharge.
It is not yet known how long the current shut-down of racing may have to last, however there are echoes of the foot-and-mouth crises of 1967 and 2001.
On each occasion, the racing calendar was affected for two months – and in 2001, the Cheltenham Festival was abandoned.
A further update on the possible continued extent of disruption is expected from the BHA – with a packed weekend of Cheltenham trials and other big races scheduled at Newbury, Warwick, Musselburgh and in Ireland.