01/31/2006 12:00AM

First herpes positive found at Laurel barn

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Postmortem tissue from a lame filly who was euthanized last Thursday at Laurel Park tested positive for equine herpesvirus, Laurel officials said Tuesday.

Lou Raffetto, the chief operating officer of Laurel, said that the results of blood and tissue samples from the dead filly from tests conducted by the Maryland Department of Agriculture came back late Monday afternoon confirming the presence of equine herpesvirus, a highly contagious disease that attacks a horse's upper respiratory and neurological systems.

The test results were the first from a horse at Laurel Park to confirm equine herpesvirus. Laurel's sister track, Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, has been under quarantine since Jan. 21 following the diagnosis of equine herpesvirus in 11 horses stabled on the grounds. Laurel is in the middle of a race meet, while Pimlico is open only for training.

The euthanized filly was trained by Rodney Jenkins. Barn 9 at Laurel, where the filly was stabled, has been placed under quarantine for the next 17 days, racing officials said. The barn holds 35 horses trained by Jenkins, who volunteered to have the barn placed in quarantine, veterinary officials said.

None of Jenkins's other horses have tested positive for equine herpesvirus or displayed any clinical signs of the disease, veterinary officials said Tuesday.

Hey Ralphy, the filly who was euthanized, had been lame for several days before the decision to euthanize her, according to Dr. David Zipf, the veterinarian for the Maryland Racing Commission. Zipf said that veterinary officials initially believed that the lameness was related to a spinal or pelvic injury, but that tests for herpesvirus were ordered as a precaution.

"It wasn't the typical symptoms," Zipf said during a press conference held at Laurel. "But we're dealing with an atypical virus, and we're dealing with its variants."

In addition, Zipf said, Hey Ralphy was vaccinated for equine herpesvirus eight days before being euthanized, but he cautioned that vaccinations are not 100 percent effective and that the horse may have contracted the disease well before receiving the vaccination.

A total of 535 horses are stabled at Pimlico and unable to ship out of the track because of the quarantine. In addition, a number of East Coast tracks have placed restrictions on horses shipping to their facilities from Maryland and other states.

Raffetto said that Laurel has decided to postpone two stakes races, the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap on Feb. 18 and the Grade 2 General George Breeders' Cup Handicap on Feb. 20, until March at the earliest. Makeup dates for the stakes will likely be determined within the next two weeks, Raffetto said.

"We want to essentially step back and re-evaluate the whole situation," Raffetto said.

Laurel canceled its racing card last Sunday because of difficulty attracting entries. The track has also canceled its upcoming Sunday race card, on Feb. 5, for the same reason.

Raffetto had said last week that racing officials were hopeful of lifting the quarantine at Pimlico on Feb. 4. Eight horses at the track remain in detention barns there after testing positive for equine herpesvirus. Three horses there have already been euthanized.

Raffetto said that racing officials are now hopeful of lifting the general quarantine at Pimlico on Feb. 6, which would allow horses who are not stabled in any of the detention barns to ship to Laurel beginning Feb. 8. Laurel will likely accept entries for the Feb. 8 card this Friday, Raffetto said.