08/29/2007 11:00PM

Flu shuts Australian track 60 days


The Australian racecourse of Randwick is facing at least two months with no racing after eight racehorses at the Sydney-area racetrack tested positive for equine influenza. Randwick is located in New South Wales, the Australian state at the center of a widening influenza outbreak.

The horses, trained by Anthony Cummings at Randwick, are the first racehorses confirmed to have the illness, which is highly contagious but rarely fatal. The positive tests Thursday prompted a minimum 60-day lockdown of Randwick, one of the host tracks for the Sydney racing carnival, which runs from early September through late October - spring in the Southern Hemisphere.

"Randwick will be closed probably for the next two months, which completely destroys their spring campaign," Ian Macdonald, the minister for primary industries in New South Wales, told the Sydney Morning Herald Thursday. "There is no question it could be longer."

Under Australian quarantine protocol, the lockdown will be lifted 30 days after the last positive test in a quarantined location.

"At this stage we remain optimistic to resume racing at Randwick on Nov. 1," said the Australian Jockey Club's acting chief executive, Darren Pearce.

The Sydney racing carnival's cancellation has cast some doubt on the Melbourne Cup meet in the neighboring Australian state of Victoria. Racing officials there had planned to begin racing again at Caulfield racecourse on Sept. 1, provided no horse tested positive in the state before then. Racing Victoria officials were awaiting test results on six potentially ill horses in the Victoria town of Shepparton, according to The Age newspaper.

The Melbourne Cup festival is to run from Nov. 3-10, with the Group 1 Melbourne Cup on Nov.o6. As of Thursday afternoon, racing authorities in Victoria had yet to cancel the Cup festival, though they had banned horses from New South Wales from entry.

Both New South Wales and the contiguous state of Queensland continued to impose an indefinite ban on equine travel within their borders as well.

Also on indefinite hold is the William Inglis and Son auction house's spring Thoroughbred sale. It had been set to take place on Sept. 28 in Newmarket, near Randwick in New South Wales.