02/20/2006 1:00AM

Laurel loses two top stakes

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The Maryland Jockey Club has decided to cancel the General George and Barbara Fritchie handicaps this year because of the ongoing problems associated with the outbreak of the equine herpesvirus that has hit the state this winter.

The two seven-furlong races, each a Grade 2 worth $300,000, were the marquee events of the Laurel Park winter meet. Originally scheduled for Presidents Day weekend, the Barbara Fritchie had been rescheduled for March 4 while the General George had been moved to March 18.

One reason cited for the cancellation was the ban that the New York Racing Association had placed on horses shipping in from Maryland, including those originally from a NYRA track. That ban is unlikely to be removed before mid-March, meaning New York-based horses were unlikely to compete in the stakes. Horses from three different Pimlico barns were euthanized in January after contracting equine herpesvirus. Another was euthanized at Laurel.

Twelve of the 17 horses nominated to the Fritchie as of Monday morning were from outside Maryland. Ten of the 12 horses nominated to the General George were based in other states.

"In light of the situation that now exists and New York's decision to extend the quarantine period, we have no choice but to take a one-year hiatus," said Lou Raffetto, president and COO of the Maryland Jockey Club. "To preserve the integrity, quality, and grading of the [races] we thought this was the best move to make.''