An outbreak of equine herpes closed his yard near Barnstaple on 11 November, and during the five weeks he was shut, he lost several of his string to the illness. Amongst them was his last winner, one of just five this year, a horse called Pocket Too. Dartnall said of the enforced break, “The week before we were shut down we had two winners and several placed horses and were going well. As well as Pocket Too we lost some nice untried horses who we had high hopes for and I don’t want to go through that again. Hopefully it’s all behind us now.”
The British Horseracing Authority gave him the all clear to resume racing last week, since when the weather has frustrated his plans. Last week he was set to run Shammick Boy and Silver Commander at Exeter, until the rain forced the abandonment of that meeting. It’s the same story today, meaning the five horses he had planned to run at Chepstow will be staying in their boxes for a while longer.
Reflecting on what he understandably called the worst six weeks of his training career, Dartnall told This Is Cornwall (I know he trains he Devon!), "The past six weeks or so have been the worst of my training career and not something I would ever want to live through again. We adopted a policy of openness from the outset. I hope from our experiences, people will learn a little about this devastating virus, and, also, take it very seriously. That way we can help prevent its spread and further suffering.”
Dartnall explained the precautions all yards take to manage the killer disease. He said, "All our horses have been vaccinated against herpes virus for the past ten years, but we have subsequently learned that it just dampens the virus. However, if we hadn't been vaccinated, 90% of our yard could have been affected, instead of 25%. The most dangerous part of a herpes outbreak is the first few days, when you don't actually realise you have it. In all, 25% of our horses were affected in one way or another. The mildest had a raised temperature, the most severe loss of hind limb co-ordination to fatal paralysis. The remaining 75% of the yard carried on as normal and showed no clinical signs. The outbreak has had an immense effect on our business. Over the last six weeks we've lost six horses in total, including two very nice youngsters who were showing a lot of promise, and the gutsy Pocket Too.”
The outbreak has clearly been a big setback for Dartnall and his team, but he’s now put it behind him and is looking forward. He said, “It makes you fight back to get to where you were and we've have some very nice horses to run and some good-looking three-year-olds to bring in and get going. I'm very much looking forward to the future and am delighted to say that the horses are all in great heart. We're very appreciative of all the support we have had from everyone. It has been brilliant."
Let’s hope they have a better time in the next 12 months.