12/30/2008 1:00AM

End of ban signals return to normal

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The Louisiana State Racing Commission's decision Monday night to lift a shipping ban at Fair Grounds means an outbreak of the equine herpesvirus there could cause only a ripple at the track's ongoing meet, rather than crashing over it.

A Dallas Stewart-trained horse fell ill last week and was diagnosed with equine herpesvirus on Dec. 24 after being sent to a Kentucky clinic. By the weekend, the racing commission had decided that no Fair Grounds-based horses could leave the track and no horses could ship in to race and depart again. That decision was the main reason a total of 77 horses were scratched on the Sunday and Monday racing programs, but the change of policy Monday night allowed ship-ins again when racing resumed with a rare Wednesday card. There were 22 off-site horses among the 103 entered for Wednesday's 10 races that would have been scratched had the ban held. That's fewer ship-ins than usual, and entries probably were down because of the fluidity of the situation.

The lifting of the shipping ban came despite the fact that tests performed Friday on all the other horses stabled in the affected barn - including those trained by Stewart and Neil Howard - revealed five more positives for equine herpesvirus. None of those horses, all trained by Stewart, have shown herpes symptoms, which can include fever, upper-respiratory distress, and neurological problems. All five were removed from the Fair Grounds backstretch Tuesday and will be quarantined at a local stable for at least three weeks.

Two types of tests - a nasal swab and a blood test - were administered, according to Dr. Tom David, the racing commission's veterinary director. Of the five positive tests, two came from the nasal swab, one result was listed only as suspicious, and two showed up in blood tests. David said the blood-test positives suggested the virus recently had been active in the horses' systems. A small percentage of the equine population will generate positive results in the nasal-swab test because they carry a latent strain of the virus that is unlikely to be transmitted to other animals.

A second round of tests will be performed on all the Stewart- and Howard-trained horses. Meanwhile, those horses remain under quarantine and cannot train with the general horse population or be entered to race. For the owners and trainers of these animals, the Fair Grounds herpes situation is an ongoing problem. For everyone else at the track, the hope is now for a return to business as usual.

Euroears back on the sidelines

First, the good news in the Bret Calhoun stable: Antrim County, a recent $50,000 claim, won a third-level turf allowance race on Sunday, his 10th victory in an amazing year and the second-highest 2008 win total by any horse racing in the United States.

But there is bad news, too. The gifted Euroears is going back on the shelf after only one start following a long injury layoff. Euroears won the first six starts of his career and scored three stakes wins during the 2007-2008 Fair Grounds meet, but before he could progress further, Euroears fractured a bone in his right hind leg. Surgery was performed and screws were inserted to stabilize the leg, and it is one of those screws that has derailed Euroears now.

"There's a problem with one of the top screws," Calhoun said. "He never did get sore on it, but he just wasn't traveling right."

Now, Euroears will have to undergo another operation. That will take place in the coming days, but another layoff will be required. Euroears suffered his first loss in his only start since his layoff, finishing fifth in the Bet on Sunshine Stakes on Nov. 22 at Churchill Downs.

The news is better for a pair of promising Calhoun-trained 2-year-olds. Indygo Mountain, who was scratched on the track two racing weeks ago from an entry-level one-mile allowance race, is training again. Calhoun said Indygo Mountain had been sore on his left hind foot, and his connections believed he might be harboring an abscess there. But while no abscess was detected there, Indygo Mountain popped an abscess in his right hind foot soon afterward. Both feet are feeling better, and Calhoun said Indygo Mountain is still being pointed to the Jan. 10 Lecomte.

Indygo Mountain won a one-mile Churchill Downs maiden race by more than six lengths on Nov. 19, and 10 days later, the Calhoun-trained Silver City won a 6 1/2-furlong entry-level allowance by more than four lengths. Silver City, Calhoun said, also worked through foot problems after shipping to New Orleans but breezed one mile in 1:43.20 on Sunday.

"He worked good, but not good enough to tell me he's ready to go to two turns," Calhoun said.

Instead, Calhoun will ship Silver City to Oaklawn Park for a start in the 5 1/2-furlong Dixieland on Jan. 16.

As for Antrim County, he won for the second time this meet and seemed to justify the hefty $50,000 claim on Nov. 9. Antrim County entered the year with a 2-for-28 career record and was claimed for just $7,500 in May. But over the course of the year, Antrim County added blinkers, was gelded, and became a different horse. Sunday, he overcame post 12 and a wide trip to beat the decent grass horse Gentleman Chester by a nose.

"I was really proud of him," Calhoun said. "He ran a hell of a race."

Antrim County will start next either in a starter allowance or a fourth-level allowance race.

New track superintendent

Fair Grounds has hired Brian Jabelmann as its track superintendent. Jabelmann, who has worked in similar capacities at Louisiana Downs and Woodbine and is a 29-year veteran of track maintenance, was to start work Wednesday.

The hiring puts an end to an awkward situation that saw Arlington Park track superintendent Javier Barajas flying in and out of New Orleans from his home in Chicago to supervise work on the two Fair Grounds courses.