The full extent of the crisis in the NSW and Queensland thoroughbred racing and breeding industries as a result of equine flu will be evident today.

Overnight, Sydney’s leading jockey, and arguably the best in the country, Darren Beadman, is abandoning Sydney racing – or what is left of it – to take a up a three month riding contract in Hong Kong.

But today the news is likely to get much worse for the NSW racing industry. The spring carnival, featuring the Epsom and the Metropolitan, and the first two races for two year olds, has already been abandoned. Millions in prize money have been lost to owners, trainers and jockeys, and the metropolitan and provincial clubs are bleeding badly.

Today the industry is likely to defer an even more important carnival – the Autumn Carnival that features Sydney’s premiers races such as the Golden Slipper, the Derby and the Sydney Cup – by at least a month. The Carnival has been centred around the Easter period for more than a century – next year it will be post-Easter, and that will impact on attendances, corporate support and more.

Tomorrow, on what should be a group racing day, Rosehill will hold at 12 race program – starting at 10.15 in the morning! But the 700 or so Randwick horses, quarantined by the equine flu outbreak can’t race there, nor can horses from regional centres. But at least racegoers will be able to attend. Racing in regional NSW remains in limbo – with massive economic consequences for country cities and towns and industry stakeholders.

Queensland is suffering, but just not quite as badly. Restricted programs are scheduled for Brisbane and the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. There is light at the end of the tunnel for racing outside South East Queensland with restrictions on the movement of horses being eased, allow racing to resume in more regional centres.

But another victim of the equine flu is the massive Magic Millions Carnival at the Gold Coast. It is held in early January, coinciding with the $125 million Magic Millions Sales operated by Gerry Harvey and John Singleton. But it is now likely to be deferred until February, after the holiday season – and that will have a massive impact on the Gold Coast tourism industry as well as on the racing carnival.

Meanwhile group racing continues at Caulfield tomorrow, when two genuine stars of the turf – the WA champion, Marasco, and the part Alan Belford Jones owned, Miss Finland – will meet in the Underwood Stakes.

So far equine flu has not hit Victoria – allowing the major lead up races to the Spring Racing Carnival to continue.

As the spread of the flu virus slows in NSW, the hope that Victoria can remain virus free rises. If that is so, the Spring Carnival racing at Caulfield, Moonee Valley, and finally the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington, will be largely unaffected.

But the long term impact of the virus on racing, and breeding, in NSW and Queensland may be even greater that had been feared.

Peter Fray

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