06/02/2005 12:00AM

Belmont moves to reduce fears about strangles


ELMONT, N.Y. - Though no horse has tested positive for the respiratory infection of strangles on the Belmont Park backstretch, New York Racing Association officials are taking extra precautions to allay any fears out-of-state horsemen may have shipping in for the Belmont Stakes or any other stakes race that day.

On May 27, a horse stabled in Belmont's Barn 60 showed classic symptoms of strangles. That horse, Lady Libby, was shipped to Cornell University on May 28 while Barn 60 was placed under quarantine. Horses in that barn all tested negative for strangles and on Wednesday were allowed to train after regular training hours. Mike Lakow, NYRA's racing secretary, said Thursday that those horses will be given the green light to train during normal training hours once a second set of negative tests for strangles comes back from the lab. Lakow expected those results either later on Thursday or Friday.

According to a NYRA senior vice president, Bill Nader, out-of-state horses coming for races on Belmont Stakes Day, June 11, for the most part will be not be stabled with horses based at NYRA's three tracks - Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga.

Horses shipping in from out of town for the Belmont and other stakes on that card will be stabled in Barn 14 - currently occupied by Angel Penna Jr. - with priority given to horses running in stakes. That barn can accommodate 28 horses and, in effect, will serve as a third race-day security barn. Those horses will be able to go to directly to the paddock the barn.

"There are about 30 stalls there, which will be power-washed, disinfected, painted and made totally secure," Lakow said.

Penna's horses will be moving to Barn 18, which became empty when Lisa Lewis shipped her stable to Saratoga.

Horses based at Belmont, Saratoga, or Aqueduct who are running in the Belmont Stakes will have to report to the race-day security barn, Barn 8, as usual on mid-morning of Belmont Day.

"We want to make sure that the out-of-town horsemen are completely comfortable with every precaution we're taking," Nader said.

All horses running in the Belmont Stakes must be on the grounds by noon on Friday, June 10. As of Thursday, only three horses under consideration for the Belmont - Reverberate, Sort It Out, and Watchmon - were at Belmont. The other eight horses were based at six different locales, including Arlington Park, Bowie Racecourse, Churchill Downs, Hollywood Park, Pimlico, and Saratoga.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson