Extra prep races offer some relief after stringent new biosecurity rules

The BHA is to schedule additional alternative races for horses who might otherwise miss out on essential prep or qualifying runs for major festivals owing to stringent new vaccination requirements announced on Monday night.

No details of the races have been published yet, but the additional opportunities – which are likely to include Flat races – will be scheduled on or around the weekend of February 23 so that horses requiring vaccinations under the new biosecurity rules will be eligible to run.

Rupert Arnold, chairman of the National Trainers’ Federation, broadly welcomed the news on behalf of his members, although he pointed out that some horses coped with the effects of vaccination better than others, and not all would be ready to run that quickly after a flu jab.

He said on Tuesday afternoon: "My phone has hardly stopped since 7am but things have changed a bit now and the six-month rule isn’t quite the issue it might have been.

"When the idea was first broached we were not pleased about it because of the practical difficulties for trainers. They were advised last month to give booster vaccinations if they could, but to overnight make it a condition of racing was quite a shock to the system." 

Arnold added: "Trainers generally avoid vaccinating mid-season, particularly close to big races, because some horses react adversely and the new rule will affect different trainers in different ways.

"Some, Paul Nicholls among them, routinely vaccinate between Christmas and new year, so they will be better placed than those who do it when the horses first go out for a summer break or when they come back in.

"It’s going to be tricky for some, even with the rescheduled and additional races, but we understand the BHA's industry veterinary committee’s point of view."

Nicky Henderson is among those whose immediate plans have been frustrated by the new rule – which is not merely short term – stating horses would be allowed to run only if they had been vaccinated in the previous six months, rather than the standard 12 months.

He had intended running RSA Chase favourite Santini in Ascot’s Reynoldstown Chase and Christmas Hurdle winner Verdana Blue in a fast-track qualifier at Kempton for Good Friday’s All-Weather Championships, but neither has been vaccinated within the specified time frame and will not be able to take up their Saturday assignments.

Betfair Ascot Chase entry Top Notch and Betfair Hurdle fancy Countister are among others from the Henderson stable who will not be eligible to run this weekend.

Nor will the 2017 Grand National winner One For Arthur, trained by Lucinda Russell, or the Evan Williams-trained Betway Kingwell Hurdle favourite Silver Streak.

However, since horses can race again within seven days of vaccination, the new opportunities, theoretically at least, allow time for alternative prep races. 

The six-month rule provoked considerable unrest when first revealed late on Monday night, Olly Murphy describing it as "absolute madness" and Nick Williams as "absolutely ridiculous".

However, BHA chief executive Nick Rust insisted at a press conference in London on Tuesday that the science was "unequivocal" and the new rule essential in order to minimise the risk as racing resumed.

Stables, Rust added, would be categorised as "primary risk, secondary risk and low risk", and some trainers would not be allowed to make any entries or declarations.

None would be "no risk", but their status would be fluid and governed by guidance from the BHA’s veterinary experts and data from the Animal Health Trust, which he underlined had been "working tirelessly".

The vast majority of trainers would be 'low risk', in which case the principal restriction would be under the six-month rule.

BHA chief regulatory officer Brant Dunshea, speaking at the same press conference, said: "I think it will be a limited number of stables who aren't allowed to make declarations, but I can't be certain how many right now.

"Trainers will be required to submit a health declaration, and that documentation needs to be with BHA staff at racecourses before a horse can be unloaded at the racecourse. All horses need to have been vaccinated within six months of raceday because this increases levels of immunity."

He added: "The process is unfolding. We have a team going through risk assessment right now, based on the protocols. It's going to be a logistical challenge, but we are determined to get the show back on the road."

In the short term, declarations for the next day’s racing are to be made as normal for 10am, but cards will not be released until 1.30pm.

Rust explained: "This is so we can check that horses who shouldn't be declared under the restrictions we're putting in place are not appearing on racecards, not appearing in the papers, and not turning up at the racecourse."

Some stables might be prevented from having runners because their swabs have not been processed yet, or else because of issues with them.

Rust admitted: "There are certain cases where the swabbings weren't carried out correctly and have been sent back for testing to be carried out again, but the Animal Health Trust hasn't stopped and over the next few days we are going to continue with these tests and try to get as many yards cleared as possible.

"Horses will not be restricted, unless there is good reason to restrict them."