Racing body steps up to re-establish Britain’s equine disease surveillance

Britain's Horserace Betting Levy Board is working to re-establish the equine infectious disease surveillance work that had been performed by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) until its closure last year. It will benefit all horses, not just thoroughbreds.
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An organisation that levies bookmakers in Britain has taken steps to re-establish the equine infectious disease surveillance provision that had been performed by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) until its closure in July 2020.

Rossdales Ltd has been awarded a tender by Britain’s Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) to provide diagnostic microbiology testing capacity. The lab will work in conjunction with the epidemiological surveillance and monitoring unit based at the University of Cambridge Veterinary School.

The new arrangements will span an interim period of at least two years while options for the longer term are considered and developed.

Funding will be provided, as previously, by HBLB, racehorse owners and the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association (TBA). Discussions are also being held with the sport and leisure horse interests regarding potential contributions in the future.

Since the closure of the AHT, the surveillance services have been provided by the former AHT team headed by Dr Richard Newton on a temporary basis under contract to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). This team will be employed by Cambridge University under the new agreement and will continue to respond to disease outbreak incidents and to produce daily updates on infectious disease reports worldwide for the benefit of the health of all horses, Thoroughbred and non-Thoroughbred.

Over the past year, diagnostics have been available to Newton’s team on an ad hoc basis from Rossdales, and funded by HBLB. Full coverage has therefore been maintained, meaning that the team was able to respond promptly and effectively to any incidents of disease.

HBLB has also formed a representative oversight committee, with HBLB Government Appointed Member Anne Lambert as its chair. The membership will include representatives from HBLB’s Veterinary Advisory Committee, the TBA, the Racehorse Owners Association, the BHA and the non-Thoroughbred sport and leisure sectors. This committee will have responsibility for monitoring the service in its initial phase and for designing plans for the future, with the objective of safeguarding the national herd.

Full engagement between the Thoroughbred and non-Thoroughbred sectors in respect of infectious disease management will underpin the work which includes the development of an epidemic risk management plan.

HBLB Chief Executive Alan Delmonte said a full evaluation of the current situation and the equine sector’s requirements took place including through a tender process that was announced by BHA in 2020.

“As well as now engaging the widely recognised expertise of Rossdales, it will be welcomed that it has been possible to retain the previous AHT team headed by Dr Richard Newton. All in the equine sector are grateful to them for continuing to provide disease monitoring coverage and reaction to outbreaks given the challenging circumstances of the past year,” Delmonte said.

Rossdales Laboratories director Dr Alastair Foote said the lab was delighted to have been awarded the tender,  “and to be able to provide continuity of the former AHT services that were critical to the equine industry, maintaining essential diagnostic testing and surveillance work”.

“Our recent major investment in new laboratory facilities at our Newmarket site has meant we have been able to rapidly accommodate the required testing requirements, with new tissue culture and virus isolation facilities, and we look forward to working alongside the surveillance and research team at Cambridge.”

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