03/25/2005 12:00AM

Concerns over strangles; Frankel ships 14 north


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Bobby Frankel said he intended to ship 14 horses from his Palm Meadows-based stable to Churchill Downs on Friday. Expected to be included in the group were Horse of the Year Ghostzapper and Kentucky Derby candidate High Limit, Churchill officials said. Frankel sent his horses north earlier than he had planned in the wake of an outbreak of strangles at the training center, located north of Gulfstream in Boynton Beach, Fla.

"I could only get 14 out," Frankel said.

One barn has been quarantined and two others placed under restriction at Palm Meadows following the confirmation of five cases of strangles in trainer Dale Romans's barn at Palm Meadows earlier this week. Track officials originally reported that nine horses had tested positive for the contagious disease, but that number is now at five after it was discovered that four of those tests had been counted twice.

Other tracks have begun taking precautions to prevent strangles from spreading. Strangles is a bacterial disease that can be fatal. Symptoms include fever, runny nose and swollen glands.

Nearby Calder Race Course will close its stable area from March 26 through April 2 to all horses other than those shipping to and from Gulfstream Park to race. There have been no reported case of strangles at Calder.

Late Friday afternoon, the New York Racing Association announced it would "temporarily restrict" horses shipping onto the grounds from any facility in south Florida, including Palm Meadows, Gulfstream, Calder, Payson Park, Palm Beach Downs, and Wellington.

Celeste Kunz, NYRA's chief examining veterinarian, made the decision after consulting with leaders in the field of infectious diseases.

"Providing there are no additional cases of strangles, horses may be allowed entry with negative cultures and PCR's from nasopharyngeal washes or swabs taken after April 2,'' Kunz said in a statement.

Kunz said that trainers who relocate their horses from the aforementioned tracks to other areas - such as farms in Ocala - could contact her at Aqueduct for information on surveillance, management, and testing for the disease.

This ban could have an impact on NYRA's ability to fill races because this is when many horses are scheduled to ship back to New York after wintering in Florida.

Kunz said horses that have already shipped in from south Florida would be further evaluated, but added it is "unlikely they pose any threat."

Woodbine racetrack, in Etobicoke, Ontario, is requiring that each horse shipping in must have a certificate of veterinary inspection issued no more than two days prior to arrival. The certificate must be signed by the attending veterinarian and state that the horse hasn't been exposed to or suspected of having strangles.

Frankel's barn at Palm Meadows is located two barns down from Romans's and adjacent to the barn of trainer Randy Schulhofer, which is currently under restriction because of a suspected case of strangles.

Gulfstream Park officials, including track president Scott Savin, track veterinarian Dr. Mary Scollay, and a consultant representing the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dr. Julie Gautier, met with about 50 horsemen at Palm Meadows on Friday morning.

"We just wanted to explain the situation and talk to trainers about the best way to deal with the situation," Scollay said Friday. "The good news today is that no new cases of the disease has been reported."

Savin said all horses in the quarantined and restricted barns are being separated from the rest of the general horse population at Palm Meadows. Those in the restricted barns will be permitted to train but only after regular training hours have ended.

"Each horse who has tested positive for strangles will be required to have several negative tests before being allowed to return to the general horse population," said Savin.

- additional reporting by David Grening, Jay Privman, and Bill Tallon