Equine flu: Martin Pipe hopes for racing return this week

Turnstiles are shut at Kempton Park racecourse
Gates have been shut at racecourses across the country with all race meetings cancelled

Former trainer Martin Pipe hopes race meetings can be staged again by the end of the week, following "marvellous" work by racing chiefs to contain an equine flu outbreak.

Racing is on hold until Wednesday while the British Horseracing Authority carries out nationwide tests on horses.

The suspension came after the discovery of six cases of equine flu at the Cheshire stable of Donald McCain.

"It's a great worry that it's going on for so long," Pipe said.

"Everybody is concerned, we're certainly missing the racing," he told BBC Radio 5 live's Sportsweek programme.

"It might be difficult for Wednesday, it might be doubtful. It depends how they progress with all the tests. I'm hoping it might be on before the end of the week - but that's more hope than anything."

The BHA is set to announce when racing can begin again on Monday evening.

On Sunday, the BHA said no new cases of the virus had been detected from analysis of nasal swabs from stables across the country.

It said that "owing to the volume of testing being carried out" by the Animal Health Trust for the BHA, it was unable to provide an exact number of tests carried out.

However, it estimated that the number tests carried out on Saturday was roughly similar to the 720 which were confirmed as processed on Friday.

The BHA also confirmed that testing had been carried out on the remaining 27 horses from the yard of Rebecca Menzies - where testing of three suspected cases came back negative on Saturday.

All horses in the yard have tested negative, but it will "remain under close surveillance and further testing will be carried out".

David Sykes told Racing TV's Luck On Sunday programme: "I can say we haven't had any other positive tests except for those in the Don McCain stable - all tests have returned negative up until when I was last in contact with the laboratory at 9.30pm.

"I would say we are looking at around 1,500 samples that have been carried out and all are negative so far.

"We're still in lockdown until we can gather some more information. While it's nice to have around 1,500 samples that are negative, it would be nice to have more of them so we get a better idea of what is out there in the general population," he added.

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Equine flu: Inside the Newmarket laboratory that detected the outbreak

More than 170 stables are in lockdown while the testing programme and containment of the virus are in force, leading to complaints of "overreaction" from some in racing - most notably, trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.

But former champion jumps trainer Pipe said: "Overreaction is better than no action. It's better to err on the side of caution.

"They're doing swabbing which is marvellous and it's been contained in one stable which is very, very good news. Flu can spread very quickly indeed and something had to be done, and they're certainly doing a very good job testing horses - but how long is it going to go on for?

"It's all good news so far so we just have to see what the rest of the tests do in the next two days."

Sykes added: "If everything came back negative today we'd be looking to move forward and start racing, but we need to be confident we don't undo all the good work by saying 'let's go racing' if we're not fully confident we've got everything covered.

"My job is to do what we think is best for the industry."

An unvaccinated non-thoroughbred horse was put down in Suffolk after developing complications following an outbreak of equine influenza.

In a separate case, 10 unraced two-year-old thoroughbreds in the same county were found to have contracted the highly contagious virus.

Equine flu - not unlike human flu - is endemic in Britain, where racehorses are vaccinated against it. The virus is generally not thought to be life-threatening, but limits the competitive capability of horses.

There have been outbreaks of equine influenza in nine English counties since the start of 2019.

One case involves a vaccinated non-thoroughbred horse in stables at a fee-paying school in the south west of England.

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