01/01/2009 1:00AM

Horses still face restrictions


With one notable exception, the course of the equine herpesvirus outbreak at Fair Grounds appears to be progressing as well as could be hoped. There have been no new cases after a single filly showed symptoms and was diagnosed with the virus on Dec. 24 in Kentucky, and even that filly has made a rapid recovery while never showing the most serious neurological effects of the disease. None of the five horses who were removed from the track Wednesday after triggering positive herpesvirus tests has shown signs of illness. And, after heavy scratches last Sunday and Monday when ship-ins temporarily were barred from Fair Grounds, racing at the New Orleans track pretty much has returned to normal.

Still, the horses there may not be welcome yet at racetracks in other states. Oaklawn Park in Arkansas is not accepting ship-ins from Louisiana, according to David Longinotti, assistant general manager for racing, though their stance regarding the Fair Grounds situation could be reshaped after a meeting Monday. And in Florida, Gulfstream Park has a general policy of not allowing horses who have traveled from a jurisdiction where there has been a case of equine herpesvirus within 30 days.

While quarantine restrictions remain on the barn that housed the infected filly, and altered training hours are in place because of them, Fair Grounds is nudging it's way back toward normalcy.

"Right now, we seem to be in pretty good shape," said Dr. Tom David, equine veterinary director for the Louisiana State Racing Commission.

On Wednesday, David led a U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian on a tour of the affected barn and other key points on the backstretch.

"She was pleased with what she saw," David said.

On Jan. 13, another round of herpes tests will be conducted on all the horses in the barn where the infection occurred. If all come back negative, the quarantine restrictions will be lifted on the barn and the horses will be allowed to train with the regular population - instead of going out at about 9:30 a.m. after all other horse traffic has left the track - and be entered to race.

"I think things are going very well," said trainer Dallas Stewart, who trains the filly who came down with the virus as well as the other five horses removed from the track. "It's a little bit of a challenge, but we're getting along with that fine."

Neil Howard is stabled in the same barn as Stewart and also is under quarantine, though none of his horses has even tested positive for the virus, much less shown symptoms.

"Obviously, it's less than ideal the way you have to train, but on the flip side of that, Fair Grounds and Churchill, they've been nothing short of great with us about extending every courtesy," Howard said. "That said, those courtesies are limited. With 12:30 post time, they call the first race over 10 [minutes] to 12, and you have to give the superintendent a chance to get the track ready. We're getting out on the track by 9:40. That's not a lot of time, really."

Howard said he has not asked horses to work fast over a racetrack that has already been in heavy use for several hours.

"You're not able to breeze horses in a total comfort zone," he said. "I'm trying for halves in 50 or 51 [seconds]. Hey, if you were ever going to get creative, this would be the time. But my thing is to change the routine as little as possible."

One Howard-trained horse unaffected by the Fair Grounds quarantine is the graded-stakes-class Mambo in Seattle. Before the Stewart filly got sick, Mambo in Seattle had been sent to Kentucky to have one of his testicles removed. The testicle was not totally undescended, but Howard said he still felt it was bothering the horse. Mambo in Seattle will return after the quarantine is over and still could make the Mineshaft Handicap in February.

Morning Memory cruises in La. Futurity

Morning Memory looked like a Louisiana-bred with a decent future winning the female division of the Louisiana Futurity on Wednesday. Morning Memory cruised to the lead and drew off to win the $108,185 six-furlong race by almost three lengths - and did so while perhaps only 80 percent fit coming back from a layoff.

"I thought she ran excellent, considering we just had her back up six or seven weeks," trainer Mike Burress said.

Ridden by Donnie Meche, Morning Memory is now 2 for 2 in her career, having won a Louisiana-bred maiden race by eighth lengths in September at Louisiana Downs. Burress said she would be pointed to the Louisiana Premier Night Starlet on Feb. 7 at Delta Downs.

Leestown Gift won the male division of the futurity by a neck for jockey Jamie Theriot and trainer Wes Hawley.

* Jockey James Graham escaped injury when he hit the ground after his mount, Silver Nat, broke down in the fifth race Wednesday. Graham was examined at a hospital and was back on his mounts Thursday.

- additional reporting by Mary Rampellini and Mike Welsch