05/23/2004 11:00PM

BC site change possible


The Breeders' Cup has begun discussing alternate sites for this year's World Thoroughbred Championships because of a contagious equine disease that has been found in Texas. The event is scheduled to be held on Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park, near Dallas.

The disease, vesicular stomatitis, was confirmed last Wednesday in three horses on a ranch in Reeves County in western Texas, about 500 miles from Dallas. Since then, Kentucky has issued a ban on all livestock based in Texas.

The discussions are in the preliminary stages, according to Breeders' Cup president D.G. Van Clief. Breeders' Cup officials fear that the disease and any restrictions, such as those already in place in Kentucky, could disrupt the travel schedules for horses that would be shipping in and out of the state for the event - especially those based in Europe.

"Any time there's an outbreak of a contagious disease in a state where we're hosting the event, it is a concern," Van Clief said. "But any speculation on moving the event would right now be what it is - speculation, and premature."

Van Clief said that if the situation had not changed by mid-July, Breeders' Cup would begin to formally open negotiations about changing the location.

"We are right now going about this day to day, and we are hopeful that the authorities in Texas will be able to isolate and control this," Van Clief said.

Corey Johnsen, the president of Lone Star Park, was attending meetings in Austin, Texas, on Monday and was unavailable for comment. An assistant said that Johnsen preferred that Van Clief speak about the situation.

Lone Star Park is scheduled to host its first Breeders' Cup this year. The track, which opened in 1997, has spent $7.8 million on an expansion project this year to accommodate the event.

Vesicular stomatitis, which typically affects horses, cattle, and pigs, can be spread by mosquitoes, ticks, and flies, and by the saliva or blister fluid of infected animals. It can cause blistering in the mouth, on teats, and around hooves.

Van Clief declined to comment about whether any alternate sites had been contacted. He said "no formal discussions" had taken place.

The most logical alternate sites would be Belmont Park in New York and Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Belmont Park last hosted the Breeders' Cup in 2001. Although Churchill Downs is still undergoing a $121 million renovation project, the site is still being considered by Breeders' Cup officials because of its consistent performance in hosting the event.

An outbreak of vesicular stomatitis in New Mexico and Arizona in 1997 also threatened the Breeders' Cup, but the disease was contained in time for the event to be held as scheduled at Hollywood Park in Southern California.