02/08/2006 12:00AM

Herpes quarantine lifted


Officials of the Maryland Jockey Club lifted a quarantine on Pimlico's horse population on Wednesday as scheduled, but lingering concerns about the outbreak of equine herpesvirus in Maryland are expected to continue to disrupt many tracks' racing schedules for at least a week.

The outbreak, which was first detected in Maryland in early January following an outbreak in Kentucky, has led to travel restrictions on horses at racetracks throughout the East. On Wednesday, officials of those tracks said that the lifting of the quarantine at Pimlico will not automatically lead to the restrictions being modified or rescinded.

In New York, P.J. Campo, the racing secretary at Aqueduct and the other two New York Racing Association tracks, said that NYRA has no immediate plans to lift a prohibition on Maryland shippers. Campo said that the state veterinarian, Dr. Tony Verderosa, told him on Wednesday morning that the prohibition will likely remain in effect for at least another week.

"There's no target date for us yet," Campo said. "Whatever Dr. Verderosa says, that's what we do."

Fred Lipkin, a spokesman for Penn National Gaming Inc., said that officials of Penn National's two Thoroughbred tracks, Penn National in Pennsylvania and Charles Town Races in West Virginia, were scheduled to meet on Wednesday night to discuss the company's policy on accepting shippers from other states. Both Penn National and Charles Town have prohibitions in place that prevent any horse from shipping to the tracks, and they have banned horses that leave the tracks from returning.

"After the meeting, we will probably be updating our course of action," Lipkin said.

Eighteen days ago, a horse based at Penn National who shipped in from Maryland tested positive for equine herpesvirus, a highly contagious disease that attacks a horse's respiratory and neurological systems. The horse, who is recovering, has been isolated from the rest of Penn National's horse population since the disease was detected.

Another track in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Park, put in place similar restrictions prohibiting any shippers after Pimlico was quarantined on Jan. 21. Sal Sinatra, Philadelphia Park's director of racing, did not return phone calls on Wednesday.

Although two barns at Pimlico remain under a hold order imposed by state veterinary officials, which prevents any of the horses in the two barns from interacting with any other horses on the grounds, the lifting of the quarantine on Wednesday means that the remaining 500 or so horses at Pimlico will be free to travel to Laurel Park to race.

Also on Wednesday, Mike Gathagan, a spokesman for the MJC, said the Sunday card at Laurel has been canceled because of concern over a lack of horses that are in racing shape and the remaining travel restrictions. The card will become the third Sunday in a row in which Laurel has canceled racing. Laurel will run for six days in a row next week, beginning on Wednesday, Feb. 15, and including the Presidents Day holiday on Feb. 20.

The MJC also announced on Wednesday that two stakes at Laurel that were postponed because of the outbreak have been rescheduled. The Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Breeders' Cup Handicap, originally scheduled for Feb. 18, will now be run on March 4. The Grade 2 General George Handicap, originally scheduled for Feb. 20, will be run on March 18.