Australia's premier thoroughbred race, the Melbourne Cup, could be at risk after the country's first-ever outbreak of horse flu was confirmed Sunday to have spread outside Sydney.
With the country already under a 72-hour ban that has wreaked havoc in Australia's 20 billion dollar (16.4 billion US) racing industry, sport insiders were glum about the prospects for the so-called "Race that Stops a Nation."
"If you think the unthinkable and this flu goes on for a prolonged length of time, then the Spring could be a wipe-out because trainers wouldn't be able to give their Cup horses enough time to prepare," top trainer David Hayes said.
At least 16 horses are believed to have come down with the equine influenza virus, which first appeared in the country in Sydney this week. The Melbourne Cup is traditionally held on the first Tuesday of November.
Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran said one confirmed case had also turned up in rural New South Wales, in a horse which had visited the affected stables in Sydney.
Officials also fear the disease has spread north to Queensland where three horses taking part in an equestrian event returned positive results to preliminary tests.
Equine influenza is a highly contagious virus that is harmless to humans but causes respiratory problems, fever and sometimes death in horses.
The outbreak, which threatens to curtail this year's thoroughbred breeding season, has already seen betting shops in this gambling-mad country deserted.
Gaming giant Tabcorp Holdings is expected to lose turnover of 150 million dollars if thoroughbred and harness racing does not resume until next weekend.
McGauran appeared sceptical about the prospects of a quicker return to business. "If there's any racing in Australia before then, it will be a minor miracle," he told reporters in Melbourne.
The minister also suggested the Melbourne Cup could be rescheduled as a result of the outbreak.
"It is better to have a deferred Melbourne Cup than to have no Melbourne Cup at all," he said.
But Victorian authorities said they were confident racing would resume in the state, where there have so far been no reports of the disease, by next weekend at the latest.
"We are on target to reach a point on Wednesday that we'll be racing," Racing Victoria chairman Graeme Duff said.
"As it stands now, next Saturday's meeting will definitely be held."
The head of the Australian Racing Board, Andrew Harding, insisted it was too early to talk about delaying the Melbourne Cup and said the strategy of trying to contain the virus had a chance to succeed.
But he said the outbreak of the disease could be a disaster for animals which have never before been exposed to the virus -- and therefore had no natural immunity to the disease.
A widespread outbreak could lead to an "astronomical" death rate, he told ABC television, adding: "The destruction that would cause to productivity would be equally astronomical."
"It's always been our worst nightmare. It's the worst disease that could enter our country," Harding said.
Last Mod: 26 Ağustos 2007, 15:09