Nick Luck: In the end, the loss was nothing like as significant as we feared…

Updated: 21/04/2024

In the end, the loss was nothing like as significant as we feared. Only one racing day of any significance went missing, many of whose best races have been rescheduled for this weekend.

And such has been the clamour for action that you can bet your life this Saturday’s improvised jamboree will record a comparatively massive audience figure on ITV.

We’ll be treated to some great sport, the Cheltenham bandwagon will start rolling again, and we’ll wonder whether six days dominated by talk of Equine Flu were just a bad dream.

The truth is that this might have been a nightmare.

When the BHA announced deep into the night last Wednesday that racing would be cancelled the following day, there was widespread praise for what was generally deemed swift and decisive action.

To the industry, this smacked of strong, clear leadership from an organization that had taken a few PR hits in recent weeks. If they were sweating the small stuff a bit too readily, their crisis management skills looked pretty assured.

On Monday evening, with the racing Twittersphere tightly clenched, aching for action, the BHA unlocked the embargo to a deep collective sigh of relief. Again, the authority was praised extensively, until such time as several trainers realized that they would need a valid vaccination within the last six months in order to declare runners.

In between times, the BHA was under enormous pressure, accused simultaneously of not testing methodically enough and being over zealous.

The fear set in when the lockdown of trainers’ yards by possible association with a positive test was put in motion on Thursday morning. Suddenly, the realization dawned that this was a potentially never ending scenario should just a few new positives come to light.

As it happened, the BHA was able to adopt a more pragmatic approach. Some might say this was something of a ‘reverse ferret’ out of an overreaction, but a kinder interpretation was that a fuller picture had been painted and that a period of lockdown and thorough testing was necessary to paint that picture.

Either way, we’re back in action with a few conditions. These won’t please everybody, but nor should a sport’s regulator aim solely to please.

Debate will rumble on, but here are three takeaways to consider from the last few days.

1. Be wary of homespun wisdom

Trainers were always entitled to question the BHA’s approach, but many made plenty of the anecdotal suggestion that you could test any string at any time and find a few positives and, therefore, this was essentially a pointless exercise.

The fact that there were no positives outside two concentrations of the virus blows this theory out of the water. Clearly, the existing vaccination regulations are robust and effective.

2. A protocol needs to be established

When BHA Director of Welfare David Sykes appeared on Luck on Sunday, he conceded that he and the veterinary committee were using a combination of global experience and common sense to guide them.

Essentially, there is no official protocol to determine how to gauge the severity and impact of an epidemic whilst enabling racing to continue.

3. There must be more harmony between Britain and Ireland.

Although IHRB vet Lynn Hillier assured me that close co-operation with the BHA had been maintained, facts suggest it could and should have been closer.

Ireland’s announcement that it would accept British-based runners BEFORE the BHA had lifted its own sanctions undermined the BHA.

We learned late in this sequence of events that Ireland had itself been operating a more targeted policy of containment for some time.

It is true that the positive test in Ireland had not travelled to the races, but there are evidently clear differences in attitude and methodology between the two countries.

With Brexit looming, it is important now more than ever for the two authorities to be regulating along broadly similar lines.

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