BRITISH Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust admits the six-day shutdown of racing will have cost the industry millions, but insists he “absolutely stands by the decision” ahead of competitive action’s resumption today.
The BHA faced widespread criticism for the decision to cancel 23 race meetings, but Rust is adamant there were no real alternatives after an outbreak of equine flu at the Cheshire yard of former Grand National-winning trainer Donald McCain.
Racing remains on a high state of alert with further cases detected at the Newmarket stables of Flat trainer Simon Crisford.
Trainers are having to pass strict criteria before running their horses.
“We think probably several million a day,” said North Yorkshire-based Rust when asked how much the shutdown had cost the racing industry, “but first and foremost we were focused on what would the disruption be for the animals – we have got to look after the health of the animals.
“We put our hands up when we make errors and we are pretty self-critical where we feel there needs to be improvement from ourselves. On this one, faced with the evidence we had, who would have taken the risk with that for the health of horses and the future of racing?
“We have a veterinary committee drawn from across the industry, the BHA has got 20 employed vets, the vast majority of our staff worked in racing – if you cut us open, like a stick of rock we have ‘we love racing’ through us. We would make the same decision again and we absolutely stand by our decision.”
Asked about the criticism aimed at the BHA, Rust said: “We have seen lots of people with opinions on social media and that is great, that is the way of the world. Some has been amusing, some has been ill-informed and some has been right on the money as far as we are concerned.
“We have horses dying who are not vaccinated, so if we had a situation where the symptoms are lasting longer and are more difficult than we’ve seen with equine flu in the past why would you take risks with that?
“I described it as Russian roulette and I would still say that – everyone can be as wise as they like afterwards, but they are only wise now because we took the action and got a full picture.
“I would not have been the one to take that chance, which could have resulted in significant disruption for Cheltenham, Aintree and the rest of the Flat season, never mind a few days now.”
Racing will take place at Kempton, Musselburgh, Plumpton and Southwell as planned today, but strict biosecurity measures will be in place.
Those measures include a declaration form confirming there have been no symptoms of flu and that a temperature check has been completed.
Only that, together with a horse passport showing an inoculation from within six months of the race meeting, will allow horses to be unloaded at a racecourse.
It means that champion trainer Nicky Henderson cannot run Santini – ante-post favourite for the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival – at Ascot this weekend.
However, the Berkshire track will host the Denman Chase, a key Gold Cup trial, that should have been run at Newbury last week.
It will not feature reigning champion Native River because trainer Colin Tizzard believes Ascot’s right-handed configuration does not suit his horse, who will have a racecourse gallop instead.