IT’S a truism in sport as it is in life that sometimes you only really appreciate what you have when it’s gone.

I have been a follower of horse racing for all my adult life and indeed for some time before that – ever since my bookie grandfather took me to Lanark racecourse sometime in the late 1960s. Yep, I’m that old.

Not a day goes by that I don’t read the racing pages or check my betting account in the forlorn hope that my bookmaker has accidentally paid me a large sum – I would never actually gain such wealth by following my own selections.

So the past few days have been frankly dreadful, ever since the outbreak of equine influenza caused the cessation of racing on the island of Great Britain. I have what I recognise as withdrawal symptoms and the habits of a lifetime have had to be altered. So it’s fair to say I am really missing racing – and don’t bother pointing out that racing has continued in Ireland and I should get my “fix” from there, because it’s just not the same. Especially if, like me, your wagers depend on following form here in Britain.

READ MORE: British horse racing on lockdown after equine flu outbreak

At some point today, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) will decide if racing can resume on Wednesday, which would be wonderful for my local track Musselburgh. All credit to the course management for arranging free entry for all spectators should their meeting go ahead.

There has been some criticism of the BHA for its decision to shut down the sport, with Grand National-winning trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and top equine vet Pete Ramzan, pointing out that equine flu is endemic in the horses-in-training population, of which there are around 14,000.

The BHA have stoutly defended their action as a bid to contain the spread of the present strain of flu and, sadly, yesterday they had to confirm the first fatality of this outbreak. A non-thoroughbred, unvaccinated horse had to be humanely euthanased after having contracted the virus.

The authority pointed out that this shows the threat posed by the disease in unvaccinated horses and the importance of biosecurity procedures and movement restrictions. Like flu in humans, the horse flu virus mutates and new vaccines are constantly being developed to deal with the newest strains.

The strain causing all the damage is the Florida Clade 1, endemic to North and South America, and a more virulent virus than the Clade 2 strain that’s endemic to Europe.

Since all horses in licensed stables are vaccinated, horse flu is usually more unpleasant than deadly. It’s rarely fatal but as yesterday’s death shows, it can kill. It also spreads fast and a stable can be basically put out of action for weeks and months should horses get infected.

The BHA maintain, and I am not going to argue with them, that equine flu is the most potentially damaging of the respiratory viruses that occur in British horses and disease symptoms in non–immune animals include high fever, coughing and nasal discharge.

Equine flu can be particularly serious for younger horses, which is of particular concern with the breeding season about to start. The BHA added: “The industry goes to great lengths and expense to vaccinate our population and impose controls to attempt to prevent the disease from affecting our horses. Running a sick horse is not good for Xits welfare.”

There are other horse diseases which have far greater effects, such as strangles. Highly infectious and brutal in its effect, strangles can be disastrous for a yard. Equine flu is much less of a problem, but it is still very unpleasant for horses, and their welfare must always come first.

The BHA had to act after trainer Donald McCain “called in” his positive tests on three horses, later increased to six. The problem was that McCain’s horses had competed all over the northern racing circuit in particular which meant that the potential for the disease spreading far and wide was real and genuine. On balance, shutting down racing and putting yards in quarantine was the correct approach to take.

There are currently outbreaks of equine flu in Ireland and France, but their racing authorities have decided not to close down racing in those countries. That is their prerogative, and any stable affected by the virus is not allowed to send any horses abroad.

The big worry is the Cheltenham Festival which is just over four weeks away. Hopefully the BHA’s actions will have halted the outbreak by March 12, otherwise this really will have been a disaster for racing. Don’t say it can’t happen because foot and mouth disease caused the festival to be cancelled in 2001, and that’s not even an equine disease.