Henrietta Knight: equine flu a can of worms that should have been kept shut
Henrietta Knight has joined those calling for the resumption of racing after last week's outbreak of equine flu.
Misgivings about the length of time – six days – racing has been shut down for by the BHA have been expressed by leading trainers Nigel Twiston-Davies and Paul Nicholls, along with prominent vets, and former Gold Cup-winning trainer Knight shares them, along with some wider concerns.
She believes the public will interpret racing’s shutdown and all of the media exposure engendered by it as though the sport is dealing with "the plague", when in fact it is a problem the human population lives with all year round.
She is adamant that since equine flu is endemic there would have been positives had testing taken place in the past.
Knight said: "The trouble is the BHA has highlighted some cases and told the world of its findings, which due to ignorance and lack of understanding people interpret like the plague.
"As we've already said, it has opened up a can of worms which would have been better left shut. No horses are dying and no horses are badly sick. Inoculations are clearly minimising adverse aspects of the virus."
Drawing a parallel with the human population she concluded: "Flu is around all year. Some people are visibly sick, but virus infections are a way of life. In racing can it not be accepted flu is one of the many viruses around and will always be?"
The BHA has firmly defended the decision to shut down racing for six days, and has received plenty of backing from the industry for its actions.
Twiston-Davies, meanwhile, claims his view that the BHA has overreacted to the dangers posed by the equine flu outbreak has received backing from another two prominent equine vets, who deal on a daily basis with the thoroughbred population.
On Friday Twiston-Davies described the BHA’s enforced shutdown as "a total knee-jerk reaction". His words received a "well said" from Nicholls on Twitter, and he felt further vindicated when eminent Newmarket vet Pete Ramzan spoke in similar vein the same day.
Twiston-Davies having continued talking to vets and other experts in thoroughbred health matters over the weekend, is not inclined to backtrack in the slightest.
Twiston-Davies said on Monday: "The people I’ve been talking to are dealing with racehorses in licensed premises on a daily basis and so they know what they're talking about. One said the initial shutdown of racing was prudent in order to establish the severity of the disease in vaccinated horses.
"However, now that it's apparent vaccination has been proved to reduce clinical signs of equine flu to a minimum, we should be able to draw a big sigh of relief and carry on – leaving trainers the freedom to test unhealthy horses without fear of being punished by the draconian behaviour of the BHA!
"The other one concurred and said that flu was always about and that the reason we don’t hear about it is because swabs have not often been taken in the past. He said it didn’t surprise him at all positives had been found and that it would have been a bigger surprise if there weren't any in such a huge sample.
"Worryingly, David Sykes [BHA director of equine health and welfare] has said the most difficult decision was to cancel racing and I think that’s totally wrong. As a protocol man he might find that it’s far more difficult to start it again."
The BHA on Sunday reported that a non-thoroughbred unvaccinated horse had died after contracting the virus, and in response to views there had been an overreaction, its head of media Robin Mounsey said: "Equine influenza is a highly infectious disease. It's the most potentially damaging of the respiratory viruses that occur in UK equines.
"The decision to suspend racing has been supported by government, the National Trainers Federation and Animal Health Trust, and has the unanimous support of the BHA’s industry veterinary committee."
The industry committee is due to to meet on Monday evening to discuss whether racing in Britain can resume on Wednesday.
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