Earlier this month horse racing suffered a major scare which threatened to cancel some of the major horse racing events. Several fixtures were called off at the beginning of February after a breakout of equine flu. Three vaccinated horses tested positive for the disease and all of them came from Donald McCain’s Cheshire stables. 

The outbreak is reminiscent of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak which forced the Cheltenham Festival to be canceled. Fortunately, this year’s festival is set to go ahead after no more cases of equine flu have surfaced, meaning that Cheltenham betting 2019 is well underway. 

Back in 2001, British horse racing was hit by multiple cases of foot and mouth disease, and it cost the racing and betting industries hundreds of millions of pounds. It was estimated that the cancellation of the Cheltenham Festival alone cost the betting industry £100 million.

During the crisis, over sixty meetings were lost because of the disease and fourteen racecourses, of which Cheltenham was one, fell within an exclusion zone because of nearby cases being discovered. Cheltenham had already been re-arranged from its traditional mid-March slot following the outbreak and was scheduled to take place between April 17th– 19th, but it was in early April that officials confirmed the meeting would not go ahead because the racecourse fell into an exclusion zone.

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Despite Cheltenham Festival falling within an exclusion zone, Aintree, home to the Grand National, was cleared to go ahead and the Managing Director of Cheltenham urged everyone to get behind the prestigious race saying “It’s bad news but we must now all try and get behind the meeting at Aintree. I know that I’m very much looking forward to my day out on Saturday.”

Punters who had bought tickets to the Cheltenham Festival in 2001 had their tickets refunded automatically. Those with tickets would still miss out on the chance to hear the famous Cheltenham roar and the racecourse missed out on some vital income, not just from the ticket sales, but also from the food and drinks sales that would have been made.

This wasn’t the first time foot and mouth had broken out in the United Kingdom. Back in 1967, there were 2,228 reported outbreaks of the disease which were recorded over a nine-month period. The end result was the slaughter of close to 450,000 animals. 

This pales into insignificance when compared with the 2001 outbreak. 2001 didn’t just see the Cheltenham Festival and many other horse races canceled. It also saw over six million sheep, cattle and pigs slaughtered in order to prevent the disease from spreading further than it already had. It wasn’t just animals in the exclusion zones that were slaughtered, but those in the surrounding areas too, such was the fear of it dispersing further afield. 

Fortunately, the equine flu crisis appears to be over, but be in no doubt, such a disease can stop racing events from being held and cause untold damage to the horse racing and betting industries. Just ask those who were involved in the industries in 2001. 

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