On the day the Callinan Inquiry into the equine flu disaster began in Sydney, Melbourne’s Spring Carnival was launched in Melbourne where the racing industry’s run of luck in avoiding equine flu continues.
The initial revelations at the Callinan Inquiry may prove very uncomfortable for the Federal Government in the coming weeks, with suggestions yesterday of serious, and inexcusable, breakdowns in quarantine control – and quarantine is a federal responsibility.
But so far Victorian racing has managed to escape the virus that has gutted racing in Sydney and Brisbane, and shut it down in most regional centres in NSW and Queensland as well.
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The relief the Victoria racing industry feels is tempered by the stark reality that the group races at Flemington, Caulfield and Moonee Valley over the next six weekends won’t include Sydney or Brisbane horses, or those from New Zealand and Japan, including last year’s Melbourne Cup winner and runner up.
Just one statistic illustrates how devastating equine flu will be for the Melbourne Cup field. Of the 24 entrants in the 2006 cup, nine were from NSW, NZ or Japan. There will be none in 2007.
The carnival opens this Saturday at Flemington with the Group One Turnbull Stakes the main event. It has drawn a good field, but the real challenge will come in the coming weeks when every Saturday will feature multiple group races. Just how the fields will hold up without so many high quality interstate and overseas horses remains to be seen.
The Victorian racing industry, and the State Government, will be confident they can get through the carnival without an outbreak of equine flu. They have survived six weeks, and the stringent border quarantine controls seem to be working.
The worry is that the virus can be transmitted by humans and has been in NSW and Queensland in recent weeks. One irresponsible breach of quarantine by a jockey, stable hand or trainer could wreck the Melbourne carnival overnight.
Even if Victoria manages to completely avoid the flu, Cup Day is simply not going to be the same. The Cup Day races in Sydney and Brisbane are off. Only phantom meetings will be held, and things are so bad that the Queensland Turf Club is planning to stage camel races. Dozens of regional and country towns which hold meetings on Cup Day might have to settle for phantom meetings as well.
Victorian racing might still avoid equine flu, but it won’t avoid the financial pain the disease is beginning to really hurt on the whole racing industry.
With no metropolitan racing in Sydney or Brisbane, TAB turnover nationwide is on the slide. And is it any wonder? This Saturday the only TAB race meeting in NSW is at Port Macquarie and in Queensland it is at Rockhampton!
The Cup Carnival is on track – but there remain a few hurdles to negotiate in the weeks ahead.