Equine flu: 174 stables in lockdown – what now for horse racing, Cheltenham and jockeys?

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Equine flu: Inside Newmarket laboratory which detected outbreak

Meltdown. Lockdown. The headlines tell a tale, but what is likely to be the real impact for British horse racing of the equine flu crisis?

A six-day shutdown of race meetings has been ordered and 174 stables are in quarantine as the sport’s rulers try to contain the highly contagious disease.

So what could happen next? When might racing resume? What are the odds on the showpiece Cheltenham Festival taking place next month? Could other areas be affected? And are there any plus points from the crisis?

Will the Cheltenham Festival be on or off?

That is the £200m question. Or whatever the exact figure is of the cost to the racing, betting and hospitality industries of cancelling the four-day meeting which is due to welcome 250,000 spectators to Gloucestershire from 12 to 15 March.

The truth is no-one definitely knows until tests on thousands of horses are analysed. That means scores of vets analysing the giant cotton buds and samples sent off to laboratories.

Flu can lay humans low, and it does the same to horses – but a deep cough or seriously runny nose is bad business in an arena where the animals need to be in prime condition.

By suspending all racing until Wednesday at the earliest, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has some breathing space, with an update to come on Monday on the next steps.

Some vets have questioned the move – “it’s not Ebola