Legends Dickinson and Pipe hope racing can return this week

Michael Dickinson
Michael Dickinson
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YORKSHIRE TRAINING legend Michael Dickinson is hopeful racing can resume this week following an outbreak of equine flu.

The comments of the two-time Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer come as the British Horseracing Authority prepare for a crucial meeting today on the crisis.

Though no new positive tests were confirmed over the weekend in addition to the six known cases at the yard of former Grand National-winning trainer Donald McCain, the sport has been in lockdown since last Wednesday night with high-profile meetings lost.

Tests on three horses with flu-like symptoms at the County Durham yard of Rebecca Menzies were also negative.

However racing is no nearer to establishing how vaccinated horses at McCain’s Cheshire stables contracted the virus in the first place.

Five thousand extra swabs were distributed to trainers to assist with the logistical challenges of testing their horses.

Opinion between trainers and veterinary experts is split over whether the six-day lockdown can end on Wednesday.

However Dickinson, famed for his analytical approach to racing on both sides of the Atlantic, hopes competitive action can resume on Wednesday.

“It is very difficult for the BHA, whatever they do is wrong,” he told the Luck on Sunday television programme.

“I think they’ve done alright. We have had it before but we are better equipped to handle it now. It’s not the end of the world and it’s not the Plague.

“I would like see racing back but it was the right thing to cancel it so far because we had to reassess the situation. As long as they (tests) are all negative, we should get back racing.”

With upwards of 700 tests processed by the Animal Health Trust yesterday, all results have been negative prompting hopes of an early resumption.

David Sykes, the BHA’s director of equine health and welfare, said: “The data is encouraging and provides a further indication that the precautionary safety measures have helped to contain the spread of disease.

“However, the picture is still developing and it remains the case that we will make an evidence-based decision about the situation on Monday.

“It remains paramount that, for the sake of our horse population, we do not take any unnecessary risks. This is not a common cold, it is a highly contagious and potentially serious disease.

“The prioritisation exercise with regards to testing will help deliver a detailed picture of the spread of infection.

“Targeted testing, alongside the wide survey of data we have already gathered, will help provide a clear picture as to the scale of the spread of the disease.”

However former champion trainer Martin Pipe, a pioneer of the blood testing of horses, says welfare comes first and that he is hopeful rather than confident of a resumption by the end of the week.

Pipe said: “I think it might be difficult for Wednesday, it might be doubtful, it depends how they progress on the tests.

“I’m hopeful it might be on by the end of the week, but that’s hope more than anything. Of course, Cheltenham is coming up, a very important meeting. We all hope it will be contained by then of course, but there’s lots of racing and planning to be done before Cheltenham.

“The welfare of the horses is most important, that’s certainly got to come first.”

While the action taken by the BHA has been criticised by some as an overreaction, Pipe is of the opinion it is better than doing nothing about the situation.

He added: “It’s very serious indeed, I was very surprised on Thursday to find that racing was in shutdown with the equine flu.

“Overreaction is better than no action, but it’s a great shock and a great worry it’s going on so long. It’s best to err on the side of caution really. It’s been identified now as the Florida Clade 1 strain, which is very good.

“They are doing lots of swabbing, which is marvellous, it’s being contained in one stable at present, which is very good news and let’s hope it gets sorted out this week.”