Flu shutdown is ‘idiotic’, Dai Walters claims

Monday, Feb 11 2019

Leading owner Dai Walters believes the British Horseracing Authority has “lit a fire they can’t put out” in deciding to suspend racing during the outbreak of equine influenza.

The sport was rocked last Wednesday after it emerged three horses – which subsequently rose to six – were found to have the highly-infectious disease at Donald McCain’s stable in Cheshire.

The ruling body quickly enforced a six-day shutdown of racing in Britain, with a decision due to made late on Monday evening about whether the sport can resume on Wednesday.

The chances of a resumption suffered a blow on Sunday evening after the BHA announced four vaccinated horses at the yard of trainer Simon Crisford in Newmarket had also been found to have contracted the virus.

However, Walters – who has seen two of his leading Cheltenham Festival hopes, Al Dancer and Angels Breath, miss engagements in recent days – believes any further delay would be a bad move.

Walters said: “I think we should be getting back racing now.

“In every walk of life you get flu and things like that. I employ 500 people, and if one or two of them are ill I send them home – I don’t just stop the whole operation altogether.

“Every yard has boxes away from the main stables, where they can isolate any horses that get ill. Fair enough, close down the yards with horses that have picked this up, but to close down racing altogether is idiotic in my view – they’ve lit a fire that they can’t put out.

“I have about 50 horses, and they’re all very well looked after. If I thought any of them weren’t being looked after properly I’d move them – it’s as simple as that.

“The climate is changing. We don’t get hard frosts like we used to – you haven’t had to put anti-freeze in your car all winter.

“We haven’t been able to run a lot of horses because the ground has been too dry – and who knows, we might get snow for a couple of weeks and then we won’t be able to race again because of that.

“Racing is a huge industry, and it’s crazy what’s going on at the moment.”

Paul Barber has owned some of the biggest stars of National Hunt racing in the last 30 years, including Cheltenham Gold Cup heroes See More Business (1999) and Denman (2008).

He also has an interest in the Paul Nicholls-trained Clan Des Obeaux, who was due to test his Gold Cup credentials in last Saturday’s Denman Chase at Newbury before the cancellation of racing.

Barber said: “I’m farming and have been all my life, so I can well remember 2001 when we had to stop racing because of foot and mouth disease.

“It’s obviously frustrating, but I look upon it as one of the evils of life, and the BHA have got to do what they’ve got to do.

“They can’t start things up again until they’re sure things are 90 per cent safe.”

Asked whether Clan Des Obeaux may run in the Denman Chase, should it be rescheduled, Barber added: “I’ll leave that to the trainer, who the last time I saw him was not smiling as much as usual.

“Whether he’ll run again before Cheltenham will be up to Paul (Nicholls).”

Tim Palin runs the hugely successful ownership group Middleham Park Racing, and revealed he has noticed a decline in interest since news of the outbreak last week.

Palin said: “We have noticed interest in getting involved in our syndicates has definitely dipped in the last week or so.

“Whether people have just decided they’re going to take the Mrs away instead, I’m not sure, but we’re not seeing as much interest as normal.

“I suppose if you’re thinking of spending a couple of grand on a share, even if there is a one per cent chance there’ll be no racing for six months, that is going to put you off.

“You’re not going to want to pay for your share and pay for six months’ training when it could end up being a waste.”

He added: “From a racing point of view I think it’s probably affecting our all-weather horses more than our jumps horses.

“We’ve got maybe half-a-dozen horses running on the all-weather at the moment – and because it’s low-grade stuff, those races won’t be saved.

“The all-weather season only really runs up until the end of March, so this is their time of year. From that point of view, it is frustrating.

“We had five winners in January and we hoped to have another half-dozen in February. We had two horses that were due to run last weekend and thought both had good chances.

“I think with our jumps horses it’s not such a big issue. With some of them the enforced break might even freshen them up a bit.

“As long as we’re back racing for the big Festivals in the spring, then I hope the jumps horses will be fine.”

Asked whether he felt racing should resume this week, Palin said: “I think as long as the numbers of horses getting this disease are going up, we can’t just flippantly say we’ll carry on regardless.

“Even if some stables are kept on lock-down, I think we need to be sure we’re over the worst and the numbers are going down before we say we can go back racing.”



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