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Tuesday, 12 February 2019

What is Equine Flu Anyway?

Equine influenza, or equine flu, is a severe, respiratory disease, regularly found in British horses. Indeed, small outbreaks of the disease occur throughout the country every year, but the last major outbreak came in the spring of 2003, when horse racing stables in Newmarket were particularly badly affected.

The disease is caused by strains of the influenza virus type A, which is akin, but not identical, to the human influenza virus. The good news is that equine influenza cannot be transmitted to humans, but the bad news is that it is highly contagious – in fact, one of the most contagious diseases affecting the British horse population – and can be physically carried by human skin, hair and clothing, as well as by equipment and vehicles.

The equine influenza virus infects the thin, membranous tissue of the upper respiratory tract, causing them to become inflamed and ulcerated. Aside from an abnormally high body temperature, the main clinical signs of equine influenza are a harsh, dry cough – which is the main means by which the disease spreads – and a profuse, watery nasal discharge. The damage areas in the lining of the airways may be penetrated by bacteria, causing secondary infections, including bronchitis and pneumonia.

The treatment of uncomplicated cases of equine influenza consists of strict rest, usually for a week or two, to allow the disease to run its course, but secondary bacterial infections require antibiotic treatment, delaying the recovery period. Clearly, equine influenza has major economic implications for owners, trainers and anyone else involved in horse racing in Britain, so despite complaints from some quarters – not least trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who described the measures to contain the disease put in place by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) as a ‘massive overreaction’, the regulator has every right to be nervous. With the Cheltenham Festival and Grand National just around the corner let me hope that the situation improves over the coming days.

Monday, 7 January 2019

3.10 Ayr, Tuesday, January 7

In the Handicap Hurdle (3.10) at Ayr on Tuesday, Cornborough returns from a 52-day break, but beat subsequent dual winner Golden Jeffrey with something in hand at Wetherby when last seen in November and the handicapper appears to have erred on the side of leniency by raising him just 4lb for that success. Indeed, the runner-up had beaten all bar the progressive Chica Buena on his previous start at Musselburgh, so the form looks particularly strong in the context of this race.

Cornborough has won a couple of times over hurdles on rain-softened ground, including a maiden hurdle over course and distance three seasons ago, and demonstrated his ability to act on the prevailing ‘soft’ going when winning on the Flat at Chester in September. Relatively lightly raced for an eight-year-old, the son of Derby winner Sir Percy has won off his current handicap mark, of 126, in the past and, having run at least as well as ever the last twice, must have every chance of doing so again.

In fact, Cornborough missed an engagement in a better race at Sandown on Saturday to wait for this easier opportunity, so the hint looks well worth taking. All of his rivals have questions to answer, for one reason or another, so provided he’s fit and ready to do himself justice after a short absence Cornborough looks to have an outstanding chance of following up his Wetherby victory.

Selection: Ayr 3.10 Cornborough to win

Monday, 12 November 2018

6.45 Chelmsford, Tuesday, November 13

Despite being by Derby winner Sir Percy out of a Sadler’s Wells mare, and being trained by the most successful trainer in the history of British horse racing, Mark Johnston, Gemologist has shown only limited signs of ability, at least so far. However, the Double Delight Hat-Trick Heaven at Handicap (6.45) at Chelmsford on Tuesday evening is scraping the bottom of the barrel, in terms of quality, so, with the step up to 1 mile 5 furlongs and 66 yards seeming in her favour, the filly may yet be seen in better light.

She returns from a 215-day break and her two previous efforts at the Essex track, albeit over 1 mile 2 furlongs, were moderate at best. On the most recent occasion, in March, she finished sixth of eight, beaten 8¼ lengths, after finding no extra in the closing stages, but that was in a 0-65 affair, off a handicap mark of 62. Notwithstanding the step up in distance, here she contests a lowly 0-50 handicap, off a handicap mark fully 12lb lower, so it would be no real surprise if she showed improved form on her return to action.

Indeed, apprentice Andrew Breslin takes off another 5lb, so I suspect that – despite her illustrious pedigree – without a forward showing in the company, her days at Middleham Moor may be limited. Let’s hope, for all concerned, that she turns out to be the proverbial “diamond in the rough”.

Selection: Chelmsford 6.45 Gemologist to win