Government bans direct transport of horses from Hong Kong
Racing in Australia and Hong Kong was dealt a major blow on Thursday after it emerged a ban would be placed on the direct transport of horses between the two jurisdictions from October 2.
The ruling was confirmed by the Australian government and, if remaining in place, it will prevent horses from either jurisdiction competing in the other's feature races. While an Australian horse may travel to Hong Kong, the problem will be how to return.
The announcement reflects the concerns of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources about the increased movement of horses between the Hong Kong Jockey Club's racecourse at Sha Tin and the club's new training centre at Conghua in mainland China.
A DAWR spokesman said: "Australia has advised the AFCD [Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department] that horse importation directly from Hong Kong into Australia will be suspended from October 2, 2017.
"Because of the changes Hong Kong is implementing by allowing horses to move to and from Conghua, in the People’s Republic of China, the department asked the AFCD to provide detailed information about its official controls over horses moving to and from the Conghua facility.
"The AFCD has not yet demonstrated that it can still manage the biosecurity risks that may arise from these movements."
The HKJC says it has been testing its transport protocols without incident, over the past 18 months, with retired horses and expressed its disappointment at the decision and called for a swift resolution of the matter.
Andrew Harding, executive director of the club's racing authority, said: "This is a highly prejudicial action and is at odds with the substantial economic relationship between the racing, breeding and wagering sectors of Australia and Hong Kong, which has existed for many years.
"DAWR’s review of the EDFZ [Equine Disease Free Zone] must be carried out swiftly so that regular horse movements from Hong Kong to Australia can be resumed in a timely manner and we are in discussions both directly with DAWR and through the Australian Consulate-General to ensure that this occurs.
"Furthermore, the club’s stable operations team will work with owners to find alternative retirement locations during this period.”
The suspension will prevent the permanent relocation of Hong Kong horses to Australia, which has been commonplace in recent years. Many Hong Kong horses, including the highly rated sprinter Redkirk Warrior who runs at Flemington on Saturday possibly en route to the $10 million The Everest, have resumed their racing careers in Australia.
It would also impact on the retirement of Hong Kong horses to Australia – a key welfare platform now of most racing jurisdictions. Hong Kong racing champions Good Ba Ba, Bullish Luck and the Australian bred Silent Witness are currently housed at the Living Legends farm in Melbourne.
The DAWR is awaiting a joint application from the AFCD in Hong Kong and Chinese authorities, which the racing industry hope will satisfy the Australian authorities.
The department spokesman said: "A successful assessment of the joint application would allow Australia to reconsider future imports of horses from Hong Kong."
Hong Kong has, until now, met the strict import requirements of the Australian government and been an approved country for a number of years.
The HKJC has gone to extensive lengths to ensure horses may be moved between Conghua and Sha Tin without risk but the DAWR says that it is not within the authority of the HKJC to declare a "safe" corridor of transport.
"Only competent authorities capable of providing official certification over the health status of animals and their products engage bilaterally to discuss such matters," the spokesman continued.
"This matter has been officially discussed between Australia and Hong Kong’s competent authority, the AFCD.
"When the department asked for detailed information about the AFCD’s official controls over horses moving to and from the Conghua facility it also requested a joint application from Hong Kong and China so it could schedule work to assess the equine disease status and the controls in place in that part of China.
"Those controls would cover movement of horses to and from the border with Hong Kong as well as operations at the Conghua facility.
"The AFCD has undertaken to work with China to develop that application. Australia is yet to receive that application."