02/03/2006 1:00AM

Herpes a concern during busy season


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Recent outbreaks of equine herpesvirus at racetracks in Kentucky and Maryland have put Bluegrass farms on alert. With breeding season set to open the week of Feb. 15, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club has warned breeders to take precautions against the disease, including vaccinating their horses.

Breeding season means farms will see a sharp increase in equine traffic, and that, breeders and farm managers fear, could help spread the disease.

Equine herpesvirus is spread through the air and by direct contact between horses or between horses and infected equipment or drinking water. There are two major kinds of equine herpesvirus, EHV-1 and EHV-4. Both cause respiratory illness. But EHV-1, seen recently in outbreaks at Turfway Park and Maryland's racetracks, can cause paralysis and, as a worry for breeders, abortion and foal death.

There are vaccines against the virus, and the farm managers club is strongly recommending that breeders use them. On Thursday, the group sent out a statement reminding mare owners that many farms are specifically requiring visiting mares to have been vaccinated against EHV-1 within seven to 90 days before breeding.

"We want to make sure everybody's aware of it," said Steven Nicholson, president of the farm managers group.

Reproductive veterinarian Dr. Stuart Brown said that commercially available vaccines had done a lot to protect mares from herpes-related abortion, but he cautioned that there is no vaccine specifically proven to prevent the strain of EHV-1 that causes neurological problems, as seen in the racetrack outbreaks.

The equine herpes problem is complicated by the fact that horses can spread the virus without ever appearing sick.

Brown recommended that farm managers and breeders be especially cautious of horses, including broodmare prospects, arriving at their nurseries from racetracks.

"It's important to isolate and quarantine mares of unknown vaccination history, especially from racetracks, for a minimum of 21 days," Brown said. He added that farm operators should check the isolated horses' temperatures twice a day, as high fever can indicate onset of the disease. And he urged farms to do everything possible to obtain accurate vaccination and veterinary histories of all arriving horses.

For mares making day trips for breeding appointments, Nicholson also suggested that horsemen disinfect shipping vehicles and such equipment as lead shanks and twitches, devices sometimes placed on horses' noses to prevent them from being fractious in the breeding shed. Major shipping companies generally disinfect their horse vans regularly.

Nicholson said the club has had no reports of problems with EHV-1, but he added that farm owners and managers should remain vigilant.

"This could turn into a major outbreak if we don't have some kind of handle on it," he said.

The club also hopes to host a presentation this month by either Robert Stout, Kentucky's state veterinarian, or Rusty Ford, equine programs manager at the state veterinarian's office.

In the meantime, close observation, quarantine, and vaccination are the watchwords.

"There should be a heightened level of surveillance," Brown said. "And the most important message to get across is that people need to consult with their veterinarians about an appropriate vaccine protocol for their specific situation."

In related news, the EHV-1 outbreaks in Maryland have prompted Fasig-Tipton Midlantic to put extra precautions in place for its mixed sale on Monday at Timonium in Maryland. The company has scratched horses that have shipped into or been stabled at Pimlico or Laurel since Jan. 1, as well as those that have had contact with any horses that have been stabled at or shipped into those two tracks since Jan. 1.

The company also will require veterinary certificates stating that entrants have not been exposed to EHV-1 within the previous three weeks.

New Zealand sale up 11 percent in gross

New Zealand Bloodstock's two-day select yearling auction ended Friday on a high note for the company, with gains in gross and average. The select session, which followed on the heels of a strong premier yearling sale last week, sold 370 yearlings for about $8,826,110, an 11 percent increase over last year's total when compared in local New Zealand dollars. Last year's auction sold 342 lots. The average price rose 3 percent to about $23,854, and the median remained level with last year at about $20,631.

The select auction's top price was about $89,400. A Stravinsky-Stilts filly bought by Kevin Hickman and a Pentire-Our Lucy colt bought by Paul Duncan each brought that price.

St. Jovite moving from Kentucky to Ireland

French and Irish champion St. Jovite will relocate from Virginia Kraft Payson's Payson Stud north of Lexington to Michael Bowe's Greentree Stud in County Tipperary, Ireland.

The 17-year-old Pleasant Colony horse won the Irish Derby and was second in the Epsom Derby in 1992. He also captured the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes in 1992.

A son of the Northfields mare Northern Sunset, he is the sire of such stakes winners as Grade 1 victor Amerique and Group 1-placed Equerry, among others.