by VR Sreeraman on  August 30, 2007 at 4:28 PM Tropical Disease News
Australia to Hold 'Phantom' Horse Races to Offset Equine Flu Losses
Australian officials were Wednesday hoping to hold 'phantom' horse races, in which spectators and punters would be banned from the track, in a bid to offset losses from the equine influenza outbreak.

Horse race meetings around the country were banned last weekend after the first case of the highly contagious horse flu emerged in Sydney.

The outbreak has left the multi-billion dollar racing industry, as well as recreational horse riding, reeling and wiped millions in turnover from the major betting firms.

While the ban on meetings is expected to be lifted around most of the country in time for this weekend's races, it is likely to last weeks longer in New South Wales.

To counter the losses, Racing New South Wales wants to hold a "phantom" race meeting on September 8 at which 700 gallopers would hit the track at Royal Randwick in Sydney's east while bookies took bets from the Canterbury course across town.

Punters could either watch the races from screens set up at Canterbury or at betting agencies around the state.

Chief executive Peter V'Landys said the ploy was unusual but would suit those who only ever watched horse-racing on television.

"They'll be able to watch it at Canterbury and every TAB (betting agency) through New South Wales will be able to bet on it," he said.

By holding the races for horses stabled at Randwick racecourse, none of which have so far come down with the virus, the event would not break the nationwide ban on the movement of horses.

Meanwhile, officials were investigating how equine influenza breached strict quarantine measures to infect scores of animals and bring the horse-racing industry to a standstill.

"We have a comprehensive investigation under way," federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGuaran said.

"No stone's been left unturned to see if there was any breach of the border or the quarantine barriers erected on Australian soil."

The outbreak of the highly infectious virus, the first time the disease has been introduced to the country, has been linked to the arrival in Australia last week of a group of horses which had completed stud duties overseas.

New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald said an inquiry was needed to determine the cause of the outbreak, which so far has infected more than 90 horses and placed hundreds more in quarantine.

"It's important we find how this breach occurred, how our biosecurity framework in Australia and New South Wales was breached so badly, because we could have other diseases that could get in here that have massive consequences upon our population and our agricultural industries," he said.

The equine influenza virus, which is so far contained in New South Wales and Queensland states, is believed to have infected hundreds of horses, but no racing thoroughbreds have yet come down with the illness.

Source: AFP

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