Racing battling worst summer for viruses in 30 years

Teddy Grimthorpe: 'It's been a real problem this year'

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photoss) Racing battling worst summer for viruses By Bruce Jackson 3:30PM 31 AUG 2016

RACING is battling what some professionals consider to be the worst summer in 30 years for health problems in stables not only in Britain but also France.

Newmarket, home to 3,000 horses, appears to have been worst hit, although the leading French centre of Chantilly has not escaped.

Many trainers big and small have reported their horses "out of sorts" with bad scopes or blood analysis and suffering from respiratory problems.

Angus Gold, who manages Hamdam Al Maktoum's horses, said: "I don't think people have realised quite what a difficult year this has been for horse-health issues and just what a tough time trainers have had. It has been the worst year in my 30 years as racing manager."

Another leading racing manager, Teddy Grimthorpe, who handles Khalid Abdullah's string, backed up his view, saying: "It's been a real problem this year, no question.

Europe-wide problem

"I think it's a Europe-wide problem. It's been bad in Chantilly and there certainly have been spells when various Newmarket trainers have struggled. It doesn't seem like it's one thing – there seems to be so many different strains of flu or rhino flu. I think it's a perfect storm of a number of things."

The storm may have started brewing with an abnormally mild winter and no cold snap to naturally kill off infections.

Gold added: "After an incredibly mild winter I remember telling Sheikh Hamdan just how well the horses were looking in March and hoped they still would be in the summer. Then it went cold in April and they had coughs and dirty noses and they never really recovered in the next three months."

Problem with the young

Jenny Hall, the BHA chief veterinary officer, said there is ongoing research at the Animal Health Trust but pointed out that stables with first yearlings and then two-year-olds were replicating the primary school environment where diseases are picked up and passed around and on to adults until they build up immunity.

"It's a reminder how important hygiene is in stables and how difficult it is, as well as at the races, with horses constantly coming and going," said Hall.

She added that while still trying to identify strains of disease is continuing, none of the health problems is to do with serious exotic infectious diseases.

"I think it's also the case people are more open about the problems, which is good, and helps as a reminder we have to continue to fund and carry out investigation and research," she said.

High-profile sufferers

There has been no more high-profile an example of the problems many trainers have faced than Postponed, who had to miss the King George.

Trainer Roger Varian said at the time: "It's like humans. You can feel all right with a lung infection until your lungs start burning, then you can forget it. If you run them when they're sick they take longer to recover."

Varian had half the number of runners in July that he did in May and June, while Saeed Bin Suroor shut up shop after a disappointing July, sending out runners again only this week.

"We've given the horses an easy time," said Bin Suroor. "Most have been coughing. You can see it all over Newmarket. I've been here 22 years and this is the worst thing like that to happen here. You have to stop and give them time to recover."

Lambourn has not escaped either, with Henry Candy reporting his horses under the weather through the first two months of the season before coming good.

Change of seasons

Wiltshire-based former champion trainer Richard Hannon, another with a three-figure strong stable, played down this year being any worse than other years.

"There's a lot of talk there's more this year than any other but it's pretty much an annual thing with the change of seasons," he said. "As weeks go by some of them are all right but others aren't and you can't run them; it's pretty standard."

Epsom trainer Jim Boyle said: "I know plenty have struggled but it's not a country-wide thing."

Boyle took a stringent precaution at bank holiday Monday's Epsom open day with requests for visitors to disinfect and not to feed or pat the horses.

"It was a sensible precaution, you can't afford any bugs and open days can be a source of contamination," added Boyle.

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