03/31/2005 1:00AM

Gulfstream tightens barn's restriction


Gulfstream Park tightened the restrictions on one of its barns Thursday, putting a quarantine on horses stabled in Barn 17 until they can be tested for strangles, the bacterial infection that has disrupted training and shipping schedules this spring after outbreaks in Florida and Kentucky.

The quarantine was placed on the barn, home to horses trained by Dale Romans, Gary Sciacca, and Scott Lake, a day after the barn had been put on restricted status. Horses in restricted barns are allowed to go to the track after the rest of the horse population has completed training. Horses in quarantined barns are not permitted on the track at any time.

Track officials said that a horse trained by Romans who had been stabled there and was shipped to Kentucky had shown symptoms of strangles, an upper respiratory infection that is highly contagious but rarely fatal. The horse was undergoing tests Thursday at Rood and Riddle Clinic in Lexington, Ky.

Two other Gulfstream barns have restrictions: Barn 20, used exclusively for horses previously based at the Palm Meadows training facility who were claimed out of Gulfstream races beginning last week, and the four horses in Barn 15 trained by Nick Zito - including High Fly and Noble Causeway - who were shipped from Palm Meadows on Sunday. Strangles has been confirmed in five horses who train at Palm Meadows.

"We're just taking as much precaution as we can considering the circumstances," Gulfstream's president, Scott Savin, said Thursday. "We are scoping all the horses in Barn 17 today as well as sending strangles tests to the labs. If every single horse scopes out completely clean beyond any shadow of a doubt, we may lift the quarantine restriction and allow them back on the track after training hours beginning Friday. If not, they'll have to wait until the results of the tests come back from the labs, and that could take up to four or five more days."

The outbreak is believed to have started in mid-March in Kentucky, where seven horses were confirmed positive as of Thursday morning at the Churchill Downs-owned Trackside training facility in Louisville. Additional test results were pending Thursday.

Racetracks expecting shippers from both Florida and Kentucky have been tightening their health certificate requirements for arriving horses.

In Lexington, the Keeneland Association hosted an informational session at its track kitchen Thursday to allow horsemen to ask veterinary authorities about the disease. Keeneland, which is expecting arrivals for its April 8-29 race meet, has not had any strangles positives.

"We're doing everything that is prudent," Keeneland's director of racing, Rogers Beasley, said. Keeneland has tightened requirements for arriving horses, including a provision that health certificates be signed by an examining veterinarian within two days before the horse's arrival. Horses who have been stabled at any time since Dec. 1, 2004, at premises known to have had strangles outbreaks will require written permission from Beasley to enter the grounds. Beasley said the track is taking other precautions, such as disinfecting the test-barn stalls and shuttle vans daily.

Tampa Bay Downs on Thursday amended its guidelines for horses stabled off the track grounds. As of Friday, entries will be accepted on horses stabled in Ocala, but not elsewhere in south Florida, including Gulfstream, Calder, Palm Meadows, Payson Park and Palm Beach Downs.

Exceptions will be made for horses entered in any of the Florida Cup races scheduled at Tampa on April 9, as long as they have tested negative for strangles after April 2.

Minimizing horse-to-horse contact is an important way to prevent the disease from spreading, said Dr. Rob Holland, an infectious disease veterinarian. Holland recommended that horsemen whose horses share bits should disinfect the equipment between uses. He also suggested that trainers not allow any sharing of water buckets.