03/26/2005 12:00AM

Horsemen face consequences of Florida strangles outbreak


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - There were no new reported cases of strangles at south Florida racetracks on Saturday but the ramifications of the already existing cases are impacting the plans of many horsemen stabled in the area.

The barn of trainer Dale Romans has been quarantined and two others isolated at Palm Meadows training center in Boynton Beach, Fla. Five cases of strangles, all in Romans's barn, have already been confirmed while a sixth horse from trainer Randy Schulhofer's stable is suspected of also having the highly contagious disease.

On Friday, officials from racetracks in New York, Canada, and at Calder Race Course implemented temporary restrictions on horses shipping in from any facility in south Florida, including the training centers at Palm Beach Downs and Payson Park. On Saturday, Tampa Bay Downs followed suit by closing its stable area and refusing to take entries from horses shipping in from anywhere other than nearby Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties. That ban includes horses shipping in to race off the farms in nearby Ocala.

Officials at three Kentucky tracks, Turfway Park, Churchill Downs, and Keeneland, have not placed any restrictions on south Florida shippers. As a result, many trainers were hastily making arrangements to van or ship at least part of their south Florida-based stables to Kentucky.

Trainer Bobby Frankel sent 14 horses, including Horse of the Year Ghostzapper and Kentucky Derby contender High Limit, to Churchill Downs on Friday, while Nick Zito shipped two of his Derby prospects, Sun King and Bellamy Road, to Churchill on Saturday morning.

"As of today there are no new restrictions in Kentucky," said Mickey Sample, chief steward at Turfway Park. "At the moment the strangles problem has been addressed and contained at the Trackside training center."

Horses infected with strangles had been identified at the Trackside training center in Louisville, Ky., earlier this month, but a second round of testing last week indicated that the problem had not spread and that the numer of cases had dropped. Some of the ill horses in Louisville were also trained by Romans.

Calder's announcement to close its barn area to shippers at least through Saturday will delay the arrival of 2-year-olds expected in from Ocala this week to begin training for the 2005 meet which opens on April 25.

The decision by the New York Racing Association to restrict shippers from any facility in south Florida has created problems for many of the New York-based horsemen who stabled here this winter. In order for a horse to return to New York it must test negative for the disease during examinations that can not be administered until after April 2.

Trainer Allen Jerkens was planning on shipping his horses to New York on April 4. Included in that group is Medallist, whom he has been pointing for the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on April 9.

"If they let us take the tests on our horses on March 30 instead of after April 2 we'll still be all right," said Jerkens. "If not, I guess I'll just have to make other plans for Medallist. This whole situation is definitely an inconvenience for all of us."

Among the horsemen hardest hit by the strangles outbreak at Palm Meadows is Schulhofer, whose barn has been put in isolation since one member of his stable, Sky Conquerer, came down with symptoms of the disease earlier this week.

"This whole situation is crazy," said Schulhofer whose barn is adjacent to Romans's at Palm Meadows. "Right now I'm dead. I'm completely shut down. I can't run. I can't leave. I can't do anything. I might not be able to run a horse for 30 or 40 days."

Schulhofer's horses, with the exception of Sky Conquerer, are permitted to go to the track but not until after regular training hours at Palm Meadows are finished. On Saturday his horses, along with those of trainer Eric Coatrieux, who is stabled along with Schulhofer in barn 16, did not get on the track until 11 a.m.

- Additional reporting by Marty McGee