09/10/2007 12:00AM

Flu hits Darley farm

EmailDarley's stud farm in New South Wales is the latest facility to be hit by Australia's first outbreak of the highly contagious respiratory disease equine influenza. The farm, owned by Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, confirmed Sunday that its yearling population had gotten the illness, which shut down racing in Japan earlier this summer before arriving in Australia via shuttle stallions.

Darley's Australian general manager, Olly Tait, told Racing and Sports that three yearlings at the farm had the influenza on Sunday.

"EI is spreading quickly, and we were not surprised when a small number of our yearlings began to display clinical signs of the virus," Tait said, adding that the yearlings in question had subsequently tested positive for the illness.

"It is apparent that the virus is airborne, as our New South Wales property has been in lockdown for two weeks," he said.

Emirates Park, a major farm in Murrurundi, also had confirmed the presence of the virus in three horses. The disease is rarely fatal, but over the weekend trainer Lew Hyson reported that a recent winner in his stable, Tip of the Iceberg, was euthanized after developing serious illness from the virus.

Equine influenza is rapidly spreading throughout the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland but has so far spared Victoria, a major racing center and home of the famed Melbourne Cup. New South Wales and Queensland remain under a ban on equine transport and on Monday, racing officials in Victoria said they would refund entry fees for horses nominated for the Melbourne Cup festival races if they were unable to make it to the race because of the outbreak and travel ban.