Newmarket trainers try not to let equine flu worry them despite lockdown

Despite one outbreak at the Flat hub of racing, other trainers mix confidence in their yards with extra precautions

February is the month when Newmarket normally comes to life. The Suffolk town has been the centre of British Flat racing since the reign of Charles II and the first day of February is, by tradition, when the grass gallops reopen before the new racing season in March. Valentine’s Day is another significant date – the start of the breeding season on dozens of stud farms scattered around the town.

For the moment, however, the town’s 3,500 racehorses have nowhere to race and on Sunday night the outbreak of equine influenza that has halted the sport in Britain since last Thursday suddenly came a lot closer to home.

Four horses trained by Simon Crisford at Kremlin House Stables in the middle of Newmarket tested positive for equine flu, casting fresh doubt on hopes that racing at British tracks might resume from Wednesday.

As is the case with every other trainer in the town, all of Amy Murphy’s horses are vaccinated against equine flu.

Unlike most of the Newmarket community, though, she has top-class jumping horses in her stable including contenders for big races at next month’s Cheltenham Festival and a return to action cannot come quickly enough.

“It’s a bit of a worry when it’s within Newmarket,” she said on Monday, “but we’ll just continue to do what we’ve done for the last 10 days and keep biosecurity very tight to keep the yard clean and healthy.

“We were on lockdown [pending the results of tests on her string of around 60 horses] but all of ours came back clean and hopefully it will stay that way. We just want to get back on the track and get back to normal.”

Elsewhere in Newmarket trainers’ targets are less imminent than Murphy’s but there are still concerns that fresh cases of equine flu could lead to the current suspension being extended towards the end of the month.

“The mood is what it is,” says George Margarson, whose stable is about a mile from Crisford’s. “We’re guided by our great leaders and I’m afraid they have more information than we have and they are filtering the information down.

“In our yard we used to take their temperatures once a day before [morning] exercise. Now we’re doing them morning and evening and looking for any sign of movement. I think we’ve had four in the last three years and that’s been an infection rather than flu.

“I’d be happy to send my horses racing and I hope they start again by the weekend. The four horses [at Crisford’s stable] had no connection to anything. I’ve been in racing for 50 years and there are always going to be bugs.”

John Berry, a former mayor of Newmarket, has been training in the town since the mid-1990s and points out that “there have been plenty of cases of equine flu in that time”, including an outbreak in 2003 which affected more than 1,000 horses in over 20 stables.

“The approach being taken at the moment is unprecedented,” Berry says. “I don’t remember 2003, because we were in the 50% that wasn’t affected, and I think they [the British Horseracing Authority] caught everyone by surprise when they suspended racing.

“I don’t feel the horses here are in danger, I didn’t before and I don’t now. Simon is half-a-mile from here but I’m not worrying about these horses falling ill. Where that leaves us in terms of racing resuming, though, I don’t know.

“I’m very much one for not worrying about things that are out of your hands.

“The health of the horses is in my hands and, if I felt that they were threatened, I’d be thinking, ‘what can I do to keep them safe?’ But I don’t feel they’re at risk.

“I’d be amazed if anyone is going around thinking, ‘I hope my horses don’t fall ill’, because there’s no more reason to think that now than there ever is.”