01/31/2009 1:00AM

Herpes suspected in Turfway horse death


A 38-horse barn at Turfway Park was placed under quarantine restrictions Friday after a 5-year-old horse named Rockhouse Rocket was euthanized after displaying signs suggesting he might have been infected with the equine herpesvirus (EHV-1), according to John Veitch, chief steward for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

Veitch said the case was being investigated by Dr. Robert Stout, state veterinarian for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, and by Dr. Bryce Peckham, the interim chief veterinarian for the commission. Veitch said blood and swab samples had been taken from the horse, who was stabled in Barn 17 on the backstretch of the Florence, Ky., track, before he was euthanized, and that test results were expected to be available by noon Eastern on Saturday.

Veitch said the horse had shown symptoms typically associated with EHV-1, which is highly contagious, but stressed that nothing had been confirmed. Until further notice, all horses in the barn were being confined under quarantine and were not being allowed to race or to train with the general horse population.

Veitch said "an adequate number of samples" had been drawn from Rockhouse Rocket and transported to a testing laboratory at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., and therefore it might not be necessary for a necropsy to be performed on the horse.

Rockhouse Rocket was owned and trained by Robert L. Williams, who is one of about five or six trainers with horses in Barn 17. Bred in Kentucky by Sabine Stable, Rockhouse Rocket, by Monarchos, won 3 of 21 starts and earned $46,760. His last start resulted in a sixth-place finish in a $12,500 claiming race on Jan. 8 at Turfway.

If a positive is returned for EHV-1, it would be the latest in a series of cases that have periodically surfaced in recent years in the Thoroughbred industry in the United States. Most recently, cases were confirmed at Laurel Park in Maryland in November and at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana in December. The last reported EHV-1 case involving a Kentucky track was at Churchill Downs in October 2007.

EHV-1 is regarded as potentially very serious and in extreme cases can lead to death in the infected horse. Clinical signs include high fever, nasal discharge, and neurological symptoms. The virus can spread through the air or by way of contaminated equipment, clothing, or hands, and thus the need for quarantine restrictions.