10/17/2012 1:16PM

Hawthorne: Equine herpesvirus diagnosed in sick horses; racing continues


STICKNEY, Ill. – Laboratory tests performed on two sick horses that since have died at Hawthorne Race Course have confirmed an outbreak of a neurologic strain of the equine herpesvirus, known as EHV-1.

All sick horses remain confined to one barn on the Hawthorne backstretch, and the Illinois State Department of Agriculture has decided that the track will be permitted to continue its race meet without restrictions on horses coming into and out of Hawthorne.

The lab tests came back late Tuesday night, earlier than had been anticipated and confirming the EHV-1 infection that had been suspected since Sunday morning, when Illinois state veterinarian Dr. Dawn Folker-Calderon was notified by a private-practice vet that a horse in Barn A suffering from upper-respiratory disease symptoms had developed a neurological condition, the typical trajectory in an EHV-1 infection. That horse was euthanized, and a second horse infected this past weekend died on its own. Three more horses have developed neurological symptoms, but so far those animals have been able to remain standing with no imminent threat of death.

Jim Miller, Hawthorne’s assistant general manager, confirmed that the five horses with advanced EHV-1 symptoms are trained by Jim DiVito, who did not respond to a request for comment. Other trainers with horses in the barn are Roger Brueggeman, Mickey Goldfine, and Joe Kasperski. Brueggemann, reached Tuesday, said some of his horses had run a fever but none had developed neurological problems.

More than 70 horses are housed in Barn A, and all will be tested for EHV-1. Once the tests are complete, horses that aren’t sick will be permitted to train during a period when there are no other horses on the track. No horses in the barn can race until all occupants test negative for EHV-1.

Several states have imposed bans on horses shipping to and from Hawthorne, but horses based at Fairmount Park in southern Illinois still are expected to race in Chicago this week, Miller said. Five Fairmount-based horses entered for Wednesday’s card, however, were scratched. Not counting also-eligibles, there were 15 early scratches on Hawthorne’s nine-race card Wednesday.

Hawthorne has so far avoided stronger quarantine measures by restricting the illness to the single barn. Horses across the backstretch are being monitored for any sign of something worse than typical fall illness, but as long as no cases arise elsewhere, Hawthorne’s fall-winter meet can continue. The track on Wednesday began disinfecting the starting gate and paddock after every race, Miller said, and the detention barn will be disinfected daily. More stringent regulations have governed actions in and around Barn A since Sunday.

Among the DiVito-trained horses who cannot leave Barn A is Third Chance, an Illinois-bred champion who was to make her career finale Saturday in the Powerless Handicap. Co-owner Ron Magers said Third Chance and another horse intended for a Saturday stakes, Banner Bill, had remained healthy.

“It’s a really strange experience to have,” Magers said. “You go from last Saturday when both horses worked very well to now just hoping they can stay alive.”