Virus fears hit hard
By ALEX EASTON
CANIABA horse trainer Jim Richardson lives only 10km from the Lismore turf club; it might as well be 10,000km.
Mr Richardson is one of scores of trainers across NSW unable to get their horses to race tracks either for training or race meetings thanks to a ban on moving horses aimed at containing an outbreak of equine influenza.
It's a frustration that grows as you get closer to the track.
At Ballina, horse trainers who live across the road from the Ballina racecourse are unable to take their horses for track work because the ban blocks horses from using any NSW road; even just to cross it.
The ban, now in its third day, is already hurting.
Thanks to the recent rains, Mr Richardson's charges have already gone a week without a race and the earnings that come from winning.
Now the weather has turned, but his horses are again missing a race with today's scheduled run at Grafton scratched thanks to the virus.
Despite that, Mr Richardson has no complaints about the harsh quarantine measures. The alternative is just too dire.
"You can't have it spreading everywhere; it'd just cost more," he said.
"It's very infectious. They say if a horse sneezes then it can get another horse up to 40 metres away.
"Once it got into a block of stables it would go through the whole lot."
Humans are immune to the virus, but anyone who comes into contact with it can spread it to other horses, he said.
Quarantine measures are so strict that, even though there has been no sign of the illness among horses on the Northern Rivers, The Northern Star had to send different photographers to take pictures of different horses yesterday to make sure they did not pick up and spread the virus.
According to the rumours doing the rounds of racing circles, the virus broke quarantine when a farrier changed the shoes of a horse that had the virus.
The ill horse nuzzled the back of the farrier's neck as he changed the shoes, passing the virus to him, and the farrier then passed it on to the next horse he came in contact with.
While there were no arguments with the extreme quarantine measures, there was also fear that the quarantine could continue impacting on the industry for years.
In the short term, an extended quarantine meant racehorses that could not be taken to the track for training would lose fitness and have to be trained back up before they could begin racing again.
Long term, the start of the travel ban came just days ahead of the start of breeding season for horses.
Lismore Turf Club secretary-manager Michael Timbrell said the ban meant owners that had been planning to breed their mares would now be unable to get them to a stud for servicing.
If it continued long enough the 'indefinite' ban, announced yesterday by NSW Agriculture Minister Ian Macdonald, could slash into the breeding season and cut short an entire generation of racehorses.