An infectious equine virus that can be fatal if transferred to humans has wreaked havoc on the German thoroughbred industry and thrown into doubt any hope the country had of claiming a Melbourne Cup double following Protectionist's triumph last year.
The confirmation of a case of glanders in Germany in January led to a six-month ban on the export of any horse that had been in Germany in the past six months. As well as thoroughbreds aimed at the Melbourne spring, the travel ban could affect whether Australian equestrian horses can be brought home from Europe ahead of the Rio Olympics.
The restricted period ends on July 30 and the World Organisation of Animal Health (OEI) declared on June 14 that Germany was glanders free. However, government protocols have to be followed before the travel ban can be lifted and the Department of Agriculture is not expected to decide how to proceed with the matter until next month.
This means leading international horse transport company IRT will have to wait for advice as to when it can open its quarantine facility in Germany and transport horses to Australia.
"It is going to be touch and go if they [the German horses] can get into the first shipment for the spring," IRT managing director Chris Burke said. "They have to be quarantined in England and be in there by September 9 for that first shipment. It comes down to if the clearances are made in time."
The horses cannot even be moved into quarantine until the ban is lifted because they would compromise all horses coming from Europe, so there are some nervous owners sweating on the decision. The Department of Agriculture has indicated "if there are sufficient surveillance data to confirm the country is again free from glanders, imports from Germany should be able to resume".
"The Department of Agriculture in Australia has to get detailed information from the German department to show that there is not a glanders risk," Burke said.
"Apart from the Melbourne Cup horses, there are dressage horses and showjumpers that are competing in Europe, which want to return to Australia to compete before Rio. At the moment, any horse that has been in Germany since last November cannot come out to Australia."
Within a month of Protectionist charging away with last year's Melbourne Cup, an isolated case of glanders was discovered in Germany. It was found in a showjumper when it was vetted after being sold to US interests. It had to be euthanised.
Glanders, which can be transferred to humans, has symptoms including coughing, fever and nasal discharge, which can lead to septicaemia and, in most cases, death. There is no vaccine for it.
Australian authorities will be guided by the OEI and its German counterparts in making a decision but have taken no risks with international horse transport since equine influenza from Japan shut down the majority of equine sport in 2007.
That came a year after Japanese raiders Pop Rock and Delta Blues finished first and second in the Melbourne Cup. It took until last year for quarantine protocols to be put in place that would allow horses from Japan to return to race in Australia.
Protectionist's trainer Andreas Wohler has earmarked three horses to travel to Melbourne for the spring carnival, all for Australian Bloodstock, who raced the Melbourne Cup winner.
Singing, a group 2 winner, is targeting the Caulfield Cup and possibly the Melbourne Cup, unbeaten Italian Derby winner Goldstream is eyeing the Cox Plate, while three-year-old Turfdonna will join them.
"We are like anyone else at the moment, waiting to see what happens," Australian Bloodstock's Jamie Lovett said. "Andreas is very keen to come back with what we think are nice horses. If they can't get here for the spring, we would definitely have them out here for The Championships [in Sydney], provided the clearances are given."
There will be a strong European contingent coming for the Melbourne spring with or without the German horses, while up to six Japanese raiders are expected after Admire Rakti's win in the Caulfield Cup last year before his death following the Melbourne Cup.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/sport/horseracing/melbourne-cup-and-olympic-horses-await-clearance-for-imports-from-germany-20150714-gibskc.html