ALL horse racing meetings in the UK on Thursday have been cancelled after an outbreak of highly contagious Equine Influenza.
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) said it had unanimously decided on the drastic action after three vaccinated horses in an active yard tested positive for the disease.
The affected horses had raced on Wednesday at Ayr and Ludlow which means several yards across Britain and Ireland may also have become infected, the BHA explained.
The cancellation of meetings at four UK tracks – Huntingdon, Doncaster, Ffos Las and Chelmsford – marks the first time such extreme measures have been taken to prevent the spread of flu since the foot and mouth crisis in 2001.
Equine Influenza is not usually fatal to healthy adult horses but is dangerous for young foals, mares in foal or horses who are already ill. Symptoms in non-immune animals include high fever, coughing and nasal discharge.
URGENT NOTICE: All racing on Thursday 7 February cancelled due to equine influenza cases. MORE INFORMATION ➡️ https://t.co/dsECChR5FI
The BHA will issue a further update tomorrow.
— BHA Press Office (@BHAPressOffice) February 6, 2019
In a statement, the BHA said: "The fact that the cases have been identified in vaccinated horses presents a cause for significant concern over welfare and the potential spread of the disease and 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".
It added: "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."
The worrying news has rocked the horse racing community on both sides of the Irish Sea ahead of next month's showpiece Cheltenham Festival meeting.
It remains unclear whether other fixtures will be affected, with 'Super Saturday' at Newbury in Berkshire this coming Saturday (February 9) the next high-profile meeting on the calendar.