British runners still welcome as French authorities move to increase safeguards
While Ireland has closed the door to British-based runners until further notice, three horses representing Michael Bell and Archie Watson in a pair of lucrative Listed races at Cagnes-sur-Mer on Sunday are set to run, subject to passing final veterinary checks.
France Galop has announced more rigorous protocols for runners entering France from across Europe in coming days as it seeks to insulate the country's thoroughbred population from the equine flu outbreak.
All three British-trained horses were on French soil when news of the positive cases first broke and were diverted to Chantilly on their way south to be tested.
Speaking on Friday, France Galop's chief medical officer Paul-Marie Gadot said: "The three British horses were blood-tested in Chantilly yesterday and results came back negative this morning. On arrival at Cagnes-sur-Mer they will go to an isolation facility and will undergo nasal swabs. If the onsite vets are satisfied they will be allowed to run."
Bell is due to run wide-margin Chelmsford winner Plait in Sunday's Grand Prix de la Riviera alongside Mango Tango for Watson, who will also be represented by Barys in the Prix de la Californie.
With the strain of equine flu in the British cases almost certainly the same as that present at various equestrian sport establishments in north-east France, Belgium and Germany, a meeting of France Galop's senior stewards on Friday ended in the decision to increase bio-security measures for all European racehorses coming into the country to run.
"We've imposed precautionary rules, not only on runners coming from Britain but across Europe," said Gadot. "We've opted not to do as the Irish have, though that's not to say the authorities there are wrong. But for me the risk to French racing doesn't only reside with British racehorses but with equestrian sport horses from Belgium or Germany."
Outlining the new measures, Gadot said: "Before final declaration time trainers will need to provide France Galop with a vet's certificate attesting to the horse's good health, confirming they come from an establishment that has not been affected by contagious disease in the previous 30 days. Horses will also undergo a nasal swab test before their race."
Gadot accepted there was likely to be an increase in the numbers of British entries in France should the BHA opt to extend its ban on racing past Wednesday, but he believes the new protocols are robust.
He said: "There's one Belgian and one Austrian horse who underwent the same process as the three British runners on their way to Cagnes and, as of the beginning of next week, the new regulations come into force.
"Any entry that is not accompanied with the appropriate vet's certificate will be declared a non-runner at the time of final declarations."
France Galop has been in regular contact with trainers since two cases of equine flu were identified in equestrian centres by the country’s equine contagious disease monitoring network (RESPE) in December.
That number had grown to ten by mid-January – many of the sites flagged by RESPE had links to an equestrian centre at Mooresele in Belgium – and France Galop issued further updates to racing yards and breeding establishments on Thursday morning in light of the BHA's decision to suspend racing in Britain.
Gadot feels the BHA's suggestion the outbreak had originated in continental Europe was not necessarily verifiable.
"The BHA have said it comes from the continent and I think that claim might be a bit exaggerated,” said Gadot. "We're the only country to have the RESPE overseeing the spread of such diseases in horses and they've declared everything.
"We're transparent and just because other countries don't have the same structures, and therefore don't declare everything, doesn't mean they don't have cases. Saying the problem comes from the continent or from France isn't really fair."
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