03/17/2005 1:00AM

Ailment in Louisville said controlled

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Officials with Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture held a media conference Thursday to give assurances that a recent outbreak of an animal disease known as strangles at the Louisville Trackside training center is under control and presents no apparent danger for the May 7 Kentucky Derby.

Churchill said the disease has been confined to two Trackside barns under quarantine. From 49 horses tested, including five ponies, Churchill reported that 19 returned positive tests for strangles, while six more tests have been termed inconclusive.

Dr. Bob Stout, state veterinarian for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, said "it is no surprise" that other horses have tested positive for strangles after confirmation last week that a horse had the disease. "Measures to contain the ailment to the quarantine appear to have been effective," he said.

Strangles is caused by the streptococcus equi bacterium and normally is diagnosed in farm animals, with cases in Thoroughbred horses being quite rare. In extreme instances, the disease can be fatal, but its more common effects are fever, runny noses, and swollen glands.

Clearly, the paramount concern is whether the disease will infiltrate Churchill Downs, where the 131st Derby will be run in six weeks. Stout acknowledged that a lead pony owned by a Churchill outrider had been ordered off the premises this week after showing possible symptoms of strangles, but "that was purely precautionary," he said.

Churchill has begun implementing a protocol for rotating infected horses out of Trackside to other quarantine facilities. Horses testing negative are being allowed to stay or move to Churchill.

Some horsemen at Trackside and at Churchill, where the stable area reopened March 11, have begun vaccinating their horses as a precaution.