AHS protocol, travel issues

“THE hype around African Horse Sickness (AHS) is affecting my business, the business of racing, the value of certain horses and by implication the income of those who need it most, the grooms,” Mike de Kock said at the weekend following news that his unbeaten Dingaans winner Hawwaam won’t be travelling to Cape Town for the Gr1 Cape Guineas on Saturday.

Two weeks ago, Mike said, there were unconfirmed cases of African Horse Sickness in Johannesburg and Pretoria, all within the 30km radius of Randjesfontein.  Official confirmation that these were not in fact AHS cases took longer than a week to receive.

Mike said: “We always need time to plan, we rely on timeous information. It directly affects what we do.”  He decided to send Soqrat and Ghaalla on the first available float to Cape Town. Hawwaam was held back.

He explained: “If the AHS cases had been positive, my runners would have had to spend 19 hours in a vector-proof stable, from 3pm to 10am the next morning, with nobody allowed in the stable, before being cleared to travel. This is the required protocol without a double-door system, and is something I can’t agree with at all. It’s completely over the top.

“I have vector-proof stables at my yard which were deemed to be fine last year, but this year a double-door system is required. Mine is a horse barn, not a quarantine stable in which double-doors can be fitted.

“One of the basic tenets of horsemanship is not to interfere with the routine of horses, to keep them on a steady routine. When you interfere with routine you start looking for trouble with things like stomach issues. The requirement of a horse having to stand 19 hours in a vector-proof stable, unattended, is a big break in routine and can cause welfare issues.

Soqrat and Ghaalla in Cape Town (Diane de Kock).Soqrat and Ghaalla in Cape Town (Diane de Kock).

Soqrat and Ghaalla in Cape Town (Diane de Kock).

“The case was proven to be negative, but as it turned out Soqrat and Ghaalla suffered a nightmare trip of 27 hours, they got stuck near Touwsriver and then spent the whole of last week in Cape Town recovering, doing nothing at all.

“Hawwaam would have been on the same float. His value and reputation is too high to have risked an arduous trip, but this is the kind of trouble we have to deal with. Everyone rightly expected Hawwaam to take on Vaughan Marshall’s One World and the other classic contenders, but at the end of the day we are the ones who have to travel, the risk is all ours!”

Mike said that when Igugu was sent to Cape Town for the then J&B Met, the stipulations were different. “Igugu was allowed to travel to Cape Town and stand in quarantine at Kenilworth. She was subject to the two hours before-and-after rule – she had to be out of her stable two hours after sunrise and back in two hours before sunset. She could race from there.

“There are export horses in quarantine at the moment, but not all the stables and barns are full. What’s the point of having quarantine facilities and not being able to use it?

“Last year Heavenly Blue and Cascapedia were also locked up in vector-proof stables, both got sick. Cascapedia has recovered, but nearly a year later Heavenly Blue is still getting there. Both suffered similarly exhausting trips and I am fairly sure that it had to do with the interference in their normal routines. They had to endure 14 days of required protocol. In this modern era when we’re landing crafts on Mars, we still can’t travel around because of horse sickness.

“I understand why the protocols are in place, but it’s all based on the requirements of the European Union who right now are not trading with us, even after we have served a number of suspensions and we now eagerly await their audit/inspection.

“The goalposts change every year and it affects everyone from the top down.  Breeders and owners pay for research and vaccinations, year after year, in the belief that we will soon reach our goals, but we’re still stuck and people are getting frustrated. It’s time that the government acts, they have to make decisions with the European Union to end this dilemma.”

Mathew de Kock reported that Soqrat and Ghaalla galloped around the bend at Kenilworth on Saturday and that they came through it well. “The week off helped them to recover, they were fresh and fine afterwards.”

Hawwaam, meanwhile, is likely to be aimed at the Tony Ruffel (on Queen’s Plate Day) with a view to the Gauteng Guineas, the first leg of the Triple Crown, at the end of January.

“It’s sad that racing fans won’t be seeing Hawwaam in action against the likes of One World, it would have been a spectacle, but who knows, perhaps there will be another day,” Mike de Kock concluded.