06/06/2005 12:00AM

Four Asmussen horses test positive for herpes virus


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Four of the 36 Steve Asmussen-trained horses that have been in quarantine for equine herpes since May 17 at Barn 38 at Churchill Downs have tested positive for the virus in a second round of tests, Churchill officials reported Sunday.

The four horses have been taken from Barn 38 and placed in a Churchill barn that had been reserved for testing for alkalizing agents before quarantine restrictions were ordered May 17. Churchill said the four horses may soon be taken off the Churchill grounds to a separate quarantine facility, possibly at Keeneland.

In the meantime, the balance of the Barn 38 horses were to be subjected to yet another round of tests Tuesday, and if they test negative again, they may be able to race as early as Friday. One of the horses who tested negative, Kentucky Oaks winner Summerly, is being pointed to the Dogwood Breeders' Cup Stakes at Churchill on Saturday.

Asmussen and his assistant, Scott Blasi, expressed their dismay at the four positive tests, saying none of their horses have shown symptoms of the virus.

"They aren't sick horses," said Blasi, adding that state veterinarians who are monitoring the situation "aren't sure what the blood tests mean. They don't know if the virus is dead or alive. I know in my mind those horses are not contagious."

Blasi said the infected horses are three 2-year-olds and one 3-year-old.

In related news, the 20 horses based in another barn that had been under quarantine, Barn 6, were cleared Monday afternoon after all blood tests returned negative. All 20 horses are trained by Ronny Werner.

"It's a huge relief," said Werner. "I was really scared after what had happened with Steve."

Three Churchill barns had been under quarantine since May 17. The third barn, Barn 39, was cleared Friday afternoon to resume interaction with the balance of the horse population after all 36 horses tested negative for the virus. Most of the Barn 39 horses are trained by Paul McGee, who has won with 2 of 4 starters since the quarantine was lifted.