TOP trainer Paul Messara has recalled the nightmare of the equine flu outbreak in Australia in 2007.
The racing industry was forced into lockdown for several months in the state of New South Wales (NSW) as the highly-contagious disease caused havoc.
Messara, whose superstar sprinter Ortensia won the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York in 2012, combines training with managing the top stud farm Arrowfield.
He was at the heart of the epidemic in 2007, when the disease spread rapidly among the NSW horse population within days of the first confirmed case on August 24.
Messara told Sun Racing: “We had no horses that were vaccinated against equine flu and it spread unbelievably quickly.
“I was based in the Hunter Valley in NSW at the time. It was air born and it swept through the place like wildfire.”
Authorities were initially made aware of the impending crisis when four stallions from Japan showed symptoms of equine flu shortly after arriving at Eastern Creek in NSW in early August.
At the same time, several recreational horses at nearby Centennial Parklands Equestrian Centre in Sydney had displayed symptoms of infection.
Within two days of the first confirmed case, 161 horses had displayed symptoms and that number rocketed to 400 by August 27.
Horses were quickly isolated and a 72-hour nationwide standstill on the movement of horses was declared.
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Messara said: “The industry in NSW was brought to a complete standstill almost immediately.
“The government in fairness was great in its response, once the severity of the situation became clear.
“I think it was probably the first time that the government realised how many participants were involved in the racing industry and how many people relied on the sport for their livelihood.
“Not just primary employment, in racehorse training and stud farms and the breeding industry.
“But secondary employment such as feed merchants and farriers and other equine services, there were so many people that were badly hit.”
There was no racing in the state of NSW – where the Sydney tracks Randwick and Rosehill host some of the biggest races Down Under – from the end of August until 1 December.
However, due to the quick reaction by authorities, the disease was able to be contained in NSW meaning the Melbourne Cup carnival in neighbouring Victoria went ahead as planned.
Messara continued: “It was an extremely difficult period for the industry for all participants.
“The sport came to a standstill for a prolonged period of time as they tried to create quarantine zones and contain what they could to keep racing going in other states.
“There were quite a few months in NSW when we had no racing at all. The big races at Sydney in the spring were hit.
“We had to see if through and quarantine ourselves off from Victoria.
“It was amazing that it did not spread out of the state, the spring carnival in Melbourne was able to go ahead which was an absolute miracle.”