01/02/2017 3:56PM

Fair Grounds puts backstretch under quarantine

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Fair Grounds announced Monday that it was putting its entire backstretch under quarantine because of an equine herpesvirus outbreak at the New Orleans track.

Three horses have tested positive for the EHV-1 virus, which first was confirmed at the track Dec. 26. The first two cases were in barn 14, but on Sunday a horse housed in barn 36 also tested positive for EHV-1.

Before Monday, no restrictions had been placed on horses coming and going at Fair Grounds. The track said two more horses on the backstretch “spiked temperatures Monday morning.” Fair Grounds officials didn’t respond to repeated attempts to contact them, but other sources confirmed that one of those horses was housed in barn 14, which already is under quarantine because of the two known cases of EHV-1.

The barn 14 horse had a fever Monday morning and was moved to an isolation area on the backstretch, where a horse who tested positive Saturday is housed. Blood was drawn from the horse, but the EHV-1 test results were not expected until late Monday. Sources said the horse did not display the neurologic symptoms commonly associated with an EHV-1 infection that were present in the three positive Fair Grounds cases.

Barn 14 and barn 36 are under separate 14-day quarantines. The barn 14 quarantine began last Saturday but will be reset to Monday if the sick horse returns a positive EHV-1 test. The barn 36 quarantine began Sunday. The horses in those barns train during two windows following general-population training and are barred from racing.

Fair Grounds, which was to race as scheduled Monday, has its first major multiple-stakes day of the racing season, including the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes for 3-year-olds, on Jan. 21. Even if the EHV-1 outbreak resolves fairly quickly and the shipping ban is lifted, horsemen at other venues are very unlikely to ship stock for the stakes races so close to a viral outbreak.

Fair Grounds issued a press release Sunday night that said the positive test on the Mike Stidham-trained horse in barn 36 showed a slightly different type of the virus than the one for which the first two horses tested positive. That information implies that the virus, which can be highly transmissible, had not necessarily spread across the backstretch.

Barn 36 sits at some remove from barn 14 and is occupied entirely by Stidham-trained horses. Stidham said the horse had come to Fair Grounds from his string at the Evangeline Downs Training Center in central Louisiana on Dec. 22. He said a horse had been fighting an undiagnosed illness “for a few weeks” before showing signs Saturday of neurologic distress, one of the telltale symptoms of a herpes infection.

The Fair Grounds release said that while the barn 36 horse tested positive for the EHV-1 strain of herpes like the horses in barn 14, the virus was of a different subtype. There are two EHV-1 subtypes, known generally as the neuropathogenic strain and the wild strain. The former is responsible for most cases involving neurologic symptoms and was the type for which the horses in barn 14 tested positive.

But Stidham’s horse, though he also had neurologic affliction, tested positive for the wild strain. The barn 36 horse has been isolated on the Fair Grounds backstretch in a different area than the two horses taken from barn 14.

Stidham said he and his veterinarian suspect the horse’s immune system was compromised by an ongoing minor illness that left him vulnerable. He said the horse’s condition had been grave Saturday but improved considerably Sunday.

Stidham and several other Fair Grounds trainers run strings at the Evangeline Training Center. The timing of the infection suggests that Stidham’s horse likely contracted EHV-1 after shipping to Fair Grounds, but horses in Stidham’s barn and others could have traveled between Fair Grounds and the training center after the virus began to be active at Fair Grounds sometime around Dec. 20. Stidham said he was checking the temperature of his Evangeline horses three times daily and that so far, no horse had been sick.

On Monday, Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, which is readying for its 2017 meet, banned from its grounds any horse who has been known to have been stabled anywhere in Louisiana during the last 30 days.