Racing has stopped before

Racing has stopped before


Ken Nicol: Racing in South Africa has been halted by disease before, but of the equine type.

One of the most serious was the equine influenza outbreak of 1986-7, which brought the sport to a virtual complete halt for a couple of months. 

But racing survived, just as it will this time around.

These excerpts from tell some of the story.


December 1986

Racegoers arriving at Milnerton on Saturday 13 December find the track deserted. Equine influenza has swept throught the stables in a matter of hours and racing is cancelled.

The same devastating flu hits the Transvaal and Eastern Cape at virtually the same time. Racing in all provinces except Natal comes to a sudden halt, while most of the stud farms in the region are also affected.  

How bad, people ask, can it get?

The virus, which affects horses respiratory systems, and gives rise to secondary complications in a small percentage of cases, was introduced to South Africa by six US horses that arrived on Friday December 5.

Two were ill, and were treated for travel fatigue by a veterinary surgeon who unwittingly carried the virus to trainer Ricky Howard-Ginsberg’s Turffontein Stables. 

The Dingaans and Queens Plate are both cancelled.

January 1987

The virus which struck late in 1986 is said to have been introduced by a group of US imports who infect the whole of the quarantine station.

The airborne virus is spread throughout the country when a float transports horses from the quarantine station to the Cape, making numerous stops along the way.

There is no racing at all in South Africa, except at Pietermaritzburg. Races are telecast live to other tracks, which stage so called ghost meetings. Even betting on Zimbabwe is introduced.  

A bridging fund for jockeys is introduced, to which all except the Natal clubs contribute generously. 

February 1987

With the flu still seeing out its course, the Cape continues to lose its feature season, including the Cape Fillies and Colts Guineas, Paddock Stakes and Cape Derby. 

Racing in the Transvaal resumes on 11 February, with racemeetings on the Rand taking place three times a week to make up for stakes (and turnover) lost, but the Cape takes a month longer to recover. 

The Jockey Club insists on a fitness test for all horses returning to the track. Most horses look on their reappearance as if the forced rest has done them the world of good. 

The press cautions punters to be careful when racing resumes in the Transvaal, and turnover for the first meeting at Newmarket is well below normal. Newmarket officials, quite wrongly, have a go at the press for this. Turnovers return to normal within a few meetings. 

March 1987

The Sun International is postponed to September, so as not to clash with the rescheduled J&B Met, which takes place in April. The first two legs of the Triple Crown, the Richelieu Guineas and Southern Sun Classic are both cancelled. 



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