The Melbourne Cup - one of the world's most iconic turf races - justifiably earns the title the race that stops the nation.
It's difficult not to notice the buzz in the air as you go about your day on the first Tuesday in November. Most Australians get involved somehow, whether it's just an office luncheon and sweep or a fully-frocked up day at Flemington or their local racecourse. For most Australians, the day isn't much more than the pop, fizz and clink of champagne, the flash of jockey's silks and the thunder of hooves round the 2 miles course.
Of course, for the horses and their connections there's a lot more involved in their participation in the Melbourne Cup. But for the international runners, the journey to The Cup is just that little bit steeper and for many of them, the final leg of that journey starts right here in Newmarket...
Nestled around the green countryside of Newmarket are special properties approved by the Australian government to hold horses for a period of pre-export quarantine (PEQ) prior to travel to Australia.
As you'd expect, Godolphin Racing has its own approved PEQ facilities for its Melbourne Cup hopefuls. But for the rest of the UK runners, their PEQ period is managed by International Racehorse Transport (IRT). IRT has offices all over the world including one right here in Newmarket. It has been responsible for preparing and importing Melbourne Cup hopefuls since 1993, when the Dermot Weld trained Vintage Crop became the first 'foreign raider' to win The Cup.
Dr Amy Little, Principal Veterinary Officer/ Director - Horse Imports Program, Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources tells us more about how runners get from Newmarket to Austraila in the best possible health...
We love the international runners coming down under to try their luck at our race this ensures we can truly call our racing 'world class'. However, as Australia is fortunate to be free of many serious equine diseases that are present in Europe and the UK, the primary objective from an Australian government perspective is to facilitate these horses entering Australia safely and without exotic disease, before they are allowed to mingle with the Australian horse population.
All horses imported to Australia must undergo a minimum of 14 days PEQ before export. Critical aspects of the PEQ period include:
- keeping the horses isolated from local horses
- ensuring staff have showered before handling PEQ horses (some diseases, including equine influenza virus can be carried by people and transmitted from horse to horse, but are easily killed by showering)
- veterinary oversight of the horses this is provided by Newmarket Equine Hospital
- transport to the airport.
Horses must also undergo a stringent regime of testing and treatment and everything must be certified by Official Veterinarians prior to the horse being exported to Australia.
Managing the importation of horses to Australia is very much a collaborative effort between the export/import agent, the Official Veterinarians and the Australian government. However, in the case of the Melbourne Cup, these horses and their PEQ period pose a special biosecurity challenge.
The horses must of course continue training in order to maintain their strength and fitness for the race. The challenge is keeping the horses adequately separated from other horses and people while they are out training.
The world famous Newmarket Heath is the training ground for racehorses in Newmarket and it's no different for those undergoing PEQ. So how do we keep our PEQ horses separated from the others? Well, this is where acknowledgement goes to the Newmarket Jockey Club as a key player in ensuring the horses are managed in accordance with Australian biosecurity protocols.
Horses usually train on the Heath of a morning, with the afternoon reserved for the Jockey Club to undertake important track maintenance. However for the weeks while horses are undergoing PEQ for the Melbourne Cup Carnival, the Jockey Club allows our PEQ horses to train in the afternoon and also ensures all other horses are safely inside their stables at that time. While trainers and veterinarians observe the horses in training, the Jockey Club also supplies personnel to monitor the training sessions. They also go ahead of the horses as they walk to and from the training area to ensure any people out for an afternoon walk don't accidentally come into contact with the horses.
So you can see that maintaining these horses health status to meet Australia's strict biosecurity rules is very much a team effort!
Once the 14 day PEQ period is complete, providing all horses have remained healthy and all test results are negative, these elite equine athletes and their grooms are ready to depart Newmarket for their long flight to Australia.
Horses travel via cargo aircraft in special air-stalls - while most horses travel 'economy-class' with three horses per air-stall, the equine VIPs generally get an air-stall all to themselves. The flight to Australia takes 22-26 hours (better than some of my flight times between Europe and Australia!) and the horses are fed, watered and cared for by in-flight grooms. A veterinarian also travels with the horses to monitor their health and administer medication should it be required. Most horses cope very well with flying (arguably better than their two-legged mates!) and some may even prefer it to road travel as travel via air is so much smoother.
All horses imported to Australia from approved countries other than New Zealand and New Caledonia must undergo a minimum of 14 days of post-arrival quarantine (PAQ) in Australia. In the case of the horses imported for the Melbourne Cup Carnival, they undertake their PAQ period in the special quarantine facility located in Werribee which is operated by Racing Victoria and overseen by the Australian government. The horses are again tested for equine influenza and have their health monitored for signs of disease e.g. increased temperatures. The Australian government operated PAQ facility in Mickleham, Victoria does not provide for horses to undertake exercise beyond a stroll in a paddock or the use of a horse walker. So this is another example of a collaborative effort “ between the Australian government and Racing Victoria - that ensures our Spring Carnival runners can maintain their fitness during PAQ while ensuring biosecurity is maintained.
All going well, with healthy horses and negative equine influenza test results, the horses are released from biosecurity control and are ready to race for fame and glory in the Melbourne Cup!
For more information on importing horses to Australia go to: http://www.agriculture.gov.au/import/goods/live-animals/importing-live-horses or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesy of Jim Paltridge of IRT UK
We would like to thank Dr Amy Little and Jim Paltridge for their help with this blog.