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Japan's equine flu outbreak could hobble Melbourne Cup bid

August 21, 2007

Questions remain over whether Japanese contenders in Australia's Melbourne and Caulfield Cups will be able to travel to compete in the big races after a suspected outbreak of equine flu in Japan.

Last year's Melbourne Cup was a triumph for Japanese racing, the country's horses finishing first and second.

Winner Delta Blues and stablemate Pop Rock are now in doubt, although a final decision is unlikely for some weeks.

Race meetings in Japan were disrupted last weekend after 29 of 163 horses at a Japan Racing Association facility showed signs of influenza.

The cancellations will be hugely expensive for the Japanese racing industry, with turnover for the equivalent period last year totalling nearly 45 billion yen.

It is understand that the Japanese horses destined for the big Australian races have not been exposed, but the final decision will rest with Australian quarantine authorities.

Equine flu is highly contagious and the ultimate decision might well come down to whether the suspected outbreak spreads.

Japanese racing authorities last cancelled races because of an equine flu outbreak late in 1971. The stoppage lasted nine weeks, continuing into 1972, with an estimated 7000 horses affected,

Officials made the call to vaccinate all thoroughbreds, a strategy that had kept the disease at bay in Japan for 35 years.

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