11/05/2012 3:30PM

Hawthorne drops Wednesday racing due to herpes outbreak


STICKNEY, Ill. – Beginning this week, Hawthorne Race Course has cut Wednesday racing from its schedule, but the equine herpesvirus outbreak that motivated the track’s decision to switch from five- to four-day race weeks is showing signs of coming under control.

No horses have shown the serious neurological symptoms of the dangerous and highly contagious EHV-1 virus since Oct. 26, according to Hawthorne assistant general manager Jim Miller. EHV-1 first manifests itself as a typical mild infection, but in serious cases progresses into ataxia, a loss of coordination that can lead to death. Two of the first three horses to contract the virus at Hawthorne died because of ataxia.

The Oct. 26 case actually marked a significant setback, since the infected horse was housed in a different location, Barn C, than the first five neurological cases, which all came from barn A, the flashpoint of the outbreak. The Oct. 26 case quickly was quarantined, however, and now nine days have passed since any further cases were reported. The outbreak began Oct. 14.

Still, with races failing to fill at an adequate level, Hawthorne has decided to scrap Wednesday racing in order to keep field size up in its programs from Thursday through Sunday.

“We were getting hurt by not having a whole lot of horses shipping in from Fairmount Park,” Miller said. “The plan right now is to go four days per week for the foreseeable future, but we always have the option of adding in another day.”

Forty horses isolated from the general equine population on the Hawthorne backstretch but not being housed in Barn A have been allowed to resume training during a dedicated period, from 10:30 a.m. to noon, after the end of regular training hours. Those horses were permitted to resume training after tests for EHV-1 came back negative. The group will be tested again in eight days and will be cleared to return to the regular population if the tests are negative again.

But the Hawthorne backstretch won’t be considered free of the virus until every horse known to be exposed to an EHV-1 case is negative for the virus in a second test performed 21 days after a first negative result. That process could drag on for several more weeks and will affect horsemen attempting to ship horses from Hawthorne to the Fair Grounds meet, which begins Thanksgiving Day.

Hawthorne, meanwhile, had a good Breeders’ Cup weekend, Miller said, with total handle – ontrack on all races and offsite on Hawthorne races – up more than $1.7 million compared to 2011. Miller estimated that the EHV-1 situation resulted in a 10 percent to 15 percent handle drop during the two previous weeks.