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Victoria announces plan to allow horses across border

October 20, 2007

Victoria, its borders shut to horses in a bid to keep the state free of equine flu in the build-up to the Melbourne Cup, has announced details of a protocol that will allow horses to cross its borders again.

The announcement came yesterday, as neighbouring NSW agriculture Minister Ian Macdonald called on Victoria to allow local favourite Leica Falcon to cross the Murray River to compete. The Victorian protocol has been accepted by all states, and opens the doors for the eventual return home of local horses stranded beyond its borders, including those in the green zones of New South Wales and Queensland.

Victoria's chief veterinary officer, Hugh Millar, says acceptance of the protocol will allow horses to enter Victoria under strict conditions to ensure there is no risk of them bringing the disease.

"Our number one priority during this outbreak has been to ensure that Victoria remains free of equine influenza, and this will continue as long as the disease affects NSW and Queensland," he said.

"All horses allowed into, or back into, Victoria will have to be tested and found EI-free before they begin a two-week government-supervised quarantine in New South Wales and then another two weeks in Victoria," Dr Millar said.

"If they remain disease free they will then be given permission to leave quarantine and move around in Victoria.

"It will take at least four-and-a-half weeks from the beginning of quarantine before a horse would be allowed to move freely in Victoria."

Dr Millar said development of a protocol had been delayed due to the need to determine which parts of NSW and Queensland could be classified as "green zones", which have a lower risk of the disease being present.

"A case near West Wyalong in NSW last week, in an area previously thought to be EI-free, which led to the re-drawing of Green Zone boundaries has shown how difficult it has been to contain the spread of this disease," Dr Millar said.

"However we are now confident that this protocol will allow horses to be transferred from green zones in NSW and Queensland while managing the risk of spreading Equine Influenza."

Centres in NSW and Victoria were being considered as quarantine options for horses returning home to Victoria from other states and the repatriation could not begin until all the infrastructure was in place.

"Under the revised protocols, Victoria would retain its 'disease free' status and horse movements to and from South Australia can continue," Dr Millar said.

It is understood that hundreds of Victorian horses are stranded in NSW because of the flu outbreak.

News of the protocol - and the four and a half week process - is unlikely to satisfy NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald, who has written to his Victorian counterpart seeking permission for popular Corowa-based racehorse and sentimental favourite Leica Falcon to cross in time for the Melbourne Cup.

"The current situation stinks of double standards and a change of heart is needed by Victoria so that NSW is represented in the race that stops the nation," he said.

"Leica Falcon has a massive following in NSW and especially in the bush where he is trained by Rick Freyer. This could be the six-year-old gelding's last shot at a Melbourne Cup. For his owners Alan and Marg Eaton, a victory would be a fairytale finish to the Leica Falcon story.

"We have been in contact with the trainer and the simple fact is, because the horse is a stayer and hasn't raced for 10 weeks, he really needs to be there next Saturday for the Crystal Mile.

"He will need to race again on November 3 in the McKinnon Stakes Leica Falcon needs to do these two lead-up races to have any real chance at competing."

Mr Macdonald said all that stands between Leica Falcon and a barrier position at the Cup is the Murray River and Victoria's ban on all NSW horses, regardless of their property of origin.

"This is a ridiculous situation and I have written to my Victorian counterpart urging him to act," he said.

"These are the facts - Leica Falcon has been tested for equine influenza (EI) and all results have come back clear. Plus, he has been vaccinated against horse flu and has received his booster shot. This means, for all intents and purposes, his immunity to EI is identical to those previously vaccinated in Victoria for the spring carnival.

"I know the horse's trainer has been keeping strict biosecurity measures in place around his stables, and let's not forget that Corowa is surrounded by green zone.

"There are more foreign horses lining up to start in this year's race, and the Victorians are denying a home-grown and widely loved Australian horse the chance to claim honours.

"Any straight thinking person would agree that it is absolutely ludicrous Leica Falcon has the same status as those standing on the other side of the river bank, but can't race them.

"I think it is about time the Victorian Government stepped in to see that a sensible and practical outcome is achieved. If Leica Falcon gets the all-clear to race he will have all of NSW barracking for him.

"He will be representing the whole New South Wales racing industry that has been crippled by the Federal Government's asleep-behind-the-wheel approach to quarantine biosecurity on our shores."

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