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Race industry calls for help

Published: 4:20PM Monday August 27, 2007 Source: AAP

The NSW racing industry has called for immediate government financial assistance as the equine influenza (EI) scare threatens Sydney's multi-million dollar spring racing carnival.

Randwick racecourse was locked down during trackwork on Monday morning after four horses - three of them in the stable of leading trainer Gai Waterhouse - were found to have elevated temperatures.

All training and movement of horses has been suspended.

The results of tests on those horses were not due to be known until Monday night but recreational horses stabled at nearby Centennial Park have been confirmed as positive.

Racing NSW chief executive Peter V'Landys said the 40,000 people involved in the industry in NSW were already in dire straits as racing faces an indefinite shutdown.

"We are haemorrhaging now," V'Landys said.   "We want the government to immediately introduce a fund to provide assistance.

"People think the racing industry is the sport of kings but there are hundreds of stablehands, track riders and uni students who are casual employees.

"In 72 hours we have lost four or five million dollars in income to the racing industry."

Racing NSW receives a percentage of money generated by TAB wagering turnover which it then distributes to race clubs around the state.

The race clubs use the money to pay prizemoney. Racehorse owners retain the major share of prizemoney while trainers and jockeys rely on their portion as their source of income.

The Australian Jockey Club and Sydney Turf Club would pay out around $10 million in prizemoney during the spring carnival.

Around 700 horses are trained at Randwick, including many of the leading carnival contenders in both Sydney and Melbourne.

Waterhouse confirmed nasal swabs from three of her horses had been sent for testing but said she had not laid off any of her staff.

"All my staff are at work as normal," Waterhouse said.

"I hope we don't have to lay any off.

"There is plenty of work to be done and the horses still have to be looked after although they can't be trained."

NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald said more than 400 horses on 53 properties were now showing symptoms of the virus, with 51 horses confirmed as carrying the disease.

He said if the tests on the horses at Randwick were positive to EI "the implication for the racing industry would be incredibly severe indeed".

"It is a virtual certainty there would be no races (at Randwick) for a month," he told reporters.

"There are over 700 horses in that precinct and they represent the cream of racing in NSW."

The first confirmed case of EI in Australia was detected at Sydney's Eastern Creek quarantine station last Thursday in a stallion which had travelled from the northern hemisphere.

On Friday several horses at Centennial Park tested positive and by yesterday 161 of 165 horses had the disease but were on the mend.

Horses from Centennial Park visited a show at Maitland over the weekend of August 18 and 19 and the virus was then transported to other areas by horses also involved in the event.

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