08/01/2002 11:00PM

Florida vets fear West Nile


West Nile Virus is a potential threat to Florida's horse populations, according to a veterinarian from the University of Florida's School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Huisheng Xie Shen, who estimates that he and his colleagues have found the virus in more than 100 horses in the past year.

A local veterinarian, Dr. Janet White, says that she has diagnosed West Nile in some 30 Thoroughbreds since last fall including two who died earlier this year.

"Last fall was a bad time," said White. "It could be that giving a horse the vaccine or a booster shot may overcome the immune system in some horses. In one case, however, there was an eight-month interval between a fatally infected horse getting a booster shot and the onset of the disease."

There is no consensus on the efficacy of the West Nile vaccine and/or booster shot. Dr. M.D. Lokai, another Florida-based vet, said the jury is out on whether the administration of the vaccine and booster shot causes more problems than it prevents.

New look to old Hooper spread

Two years have passed since the death of the venerable Fred W. Hooper. While his widow, Wanda, still races a few horses, most traces of the formidable Hooper era are fading away. For more than three decades, Hooper Farm, a 1,000-acre Thoroughbred training center and nursery west of Ocala, was Hooper's Thoroughbred headquarters. Nowadays it is an integrated Thoroughbred community catering to buyers and renters.

P.J. Wilcoxson is the resident manager for developer Nelson Jones. "First," said Wilcoxson, "let me tell you what we're all about. There are 28 10- to 12-acre parcels for sale, and they go for $25,000 per acre. We've sold 11 of them so far. These are deed-restricted lots - you can't put a mobile home on them or anything like that. You get the use of the training track, which is a one mile track with a seven-furlong turf course. The track has lights, so if you want to train before dawn you can."

Plans for the Jones Farm training center call for 30 24-stall barns. Each barn has two tack rooms and two feed rooms. "Word's gotten around, and we have already allocated 600 stalls to trainers and sales agents come September. As of now, we'll be renting the barns."

Gayle Woods, who, with her ex-husband Eddie, is well-known in the pinhooking business, has leased a barn at the Jones training complex.

"It suits my needs," she says. "I am on my own these days and am going to be a little conservative until I get rolling. So I'll start with one barn and see how it goes"

Woods, who has a thick English accent, made the switch from show horses to Thoroughbreds some 20 years ago.

"Done well, too," she said. "I worked with Eddie when we sold Left Bank for $600,000 at Fasig-Tipton's Calder 2 year-old sale. For my own account, I bought an Honor Glide yearling colt at the Ocala yearling sales for $23,000 and sold him at the Keeneland 2-year-old sales eight months later for $230,000. The buyers named him Mr. Tokyo and took him to Japan, where he did good."

Magna expands in Ocala

Magna Entertainment added to its Ocala, Fla., properties on Aug. 1, when it spent $450,000 for a parcel with seven houses adjacent to its earlier purchases. This brings the total Magna purchases in the Ocala area to 650 acres at a cost of $7.05 million.

Magna's local attorney, Steve Gray, indicated to Tye Chighizola, planning director of Ocala, that plans call for a 65,000 square-foot facility accommodating 3,500 to 4,000 fans overlooking a nine-furlong dirt oval with two turf courses.

Florida law requires that any parimutuel type undertaking get the approval of the Development of Regional Impact. No timetable for beginning construction has been announced.