04/04/2005 11:00PM

Churchill lifts its ban on shippers

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Churchill Downs lifted its ban Monday afternoon on shippers from Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs, and the Palm Meadows training center, the south Florida facilities that have seen suspected or confirmed strangles cases in recent weeks.

Strangles, though rarely fatal, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes upper respiratory disease in horses. All three Florida facilities have had one or more barns under quarantine due to the disease, which also struck Churchill's Trackside training center in Louisville last month. Churchill had banned shippers from Gulfstream, Tampa Bay, and Palm Meadows on March 29.

In a release issued Monday evening, Churchill said it was lifting that ban but would require health certificates for shippers from those areas to be signed by an examining veterinarian within 24 hours of the horse's arrival at Churchill or the Trackside training center. In addition, horses from barns under quarantine restrictions at the south Florida facilities must have negative results from two consecutive tests for strangles, plus documentation from the Florida Department of Agriculture releasing them from quarantine.

As of Monday night, three barns at Palm Meadows remained under quarantine due to strangles. Gulfstream and Tampa Bay each had one barn under quarantine because of the disease.

A filly trained by Dale Romans and stabled at Churchill in March also has tested positive for strangles, but a Kentucky Department of Agriculture official said that the filly was removed from Churchill before becoming infectious. The filly was sent to Lexington's Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington after she was found to have a fever on March 27.

"Although one horse that was moved from Churchill Downs is now positive for strangles, our diagnostic testing shows that the animal departed from the track before the disease had progressed to an infectious stage," said Rusty Ford, equine programs manager for the Kentucky state veterinarian's office. "Because of that testing, we do not believe that additional precautions are required at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture and Churchill Downs will continue to monitor the situation and will be ready to take any additional precautions that could be required."

The Churchill release also noted that 23 other horses trained by Romans and currently in two barns at Churchill have tested negative for strangles.

"Romans voluntarily took all of those horses out of training when the one suspected strangles case arose," the Churchill statement said. "The horses will remain under voluntary confinement to their barns until each returns three consecutive negative test results for the disease."