01/01/2017 8:59PM

Fair Grounds: Third horse tests positive for equine herpesvirus

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A third horse has tested positive for the equine herpesvirus at Fair Grounds, this one in a different barn than the first two cases.

The track, though, in a press release Sunday night, said the most recent test showed a slightly different strain of the virus than the one for which the first two horses tested positive. That information implies that that the virus, which can be highly transmissible, had not necessarily spread across the backstretch.

The first positive test came Dec. 26 after a horse trained by Alice Cohn in barn 14 got sick, died, and returned a positive herpes test. The barn was placed under a 14-day quarantine whereby its inhabitants are not permitted to race and were restricted to a training period following the end of regular morning training. The 14-day quarantine period was reset to begin Dec. 31 after a horse in the same barn, this one trained by Jeff Thornbury, tested positive Saturday. This horse was moved to an isolation area on the Fair Grounds backstretch.

The latest case occurred in barn 36, which sits at some remove from barn 14 and is occupied entirely by Mike Stidham-trained horses. Stidham reported that his barn also has been placed under a 14-day quarantine. He said a horse that had been fighting an undiagnosed illness “for a few weeks” began showing signs of neurologic distress Saturday, one of the tell-tale symptoms of herpes infection. The horse tested positive for the virus and was removed from the barn.

The Fair Grounds release, though, said that while the 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 known EHV-1 subtypes, know 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 horse has been isolated on the Fair Grounds backstretch in a different area than Thornbury’s horse.

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Stidham said he and his veterinarian suspects the horse’s immune system was compromised by his ongoing minor illness, which left him vulnerable to further infection by EHV-1. He said the horse’s condition had been grave Saturday but improved considerably Sunday.

Stidham said he was waiting to hear from Fair Grounds officials whether he could enter and race horses he trains that are stabled at the Evangeline Downs Training Center in central Louisiana.

The 14-day quarantine imposed on Stidham’s barn starting Jan. 1 is separate from the barn 14 quarantine, which still is set to Dec. 31.

Fair Grounds also will institute a new training schedule Monday. The general population can train between 5 and 9 a.m., with Stidham’s horses permitted on the track between 9:15 and 10:30, and the barn 14 horses training after that.

The track’s release said neither it nor the Louisiana Department of Agriculture was imposing any restrictions on horses coming into and out of Fair Grounds other than to use the Belfort Street entrance and exit.