03/08/2006 1:00AM

Maryland lifts herpes hold


The Maryland Department of Agriculture on Wednesday lifted its final hold orders on barns at Laurel Park and the Bowie training center, declaring the state free of equine herpesvirus two months after an outbreak that disrupted racing and training schedules in Maryland and beyond.

The hold orders were lifted after two horses each at Laurel and Bowie tested negative for the disease. The four horses were the last in the state to have tested positive recently for exposure to equine herpesvirus, which can attack a horse's upper respiratory and neurological systems.

"We are relieved to have this situation behind us," said Lou Raffetto, the chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Laurel, its sister track Pimlico Race Course, and Bowie, in a statement.

The Maryland outbreak started at Pimlico, which was placed under a quarantine on Jan. 23 after three horses in separate barns were euthanized while displaying symptoms of the disease. On Jan. 27, a quarantine order began being enforced on a barn at Laurel after a horse there was euthanized as well.

Because of the outbreak, many racetracks along the East Coast, including tracks in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York, began enforcing restrictions on any horses shipping in and out of the tracks. Those orders began to be lifted this week, although many of the tracks are still enforcing prohibitions on any horses who have been stabled in Maryland while awaiting news of the latest rounds of tests.

In Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Philadelphia Park lifted a general quarantine on its backstretch after receiving test results that confirmed that a horse euthanized on Feb. 24 did not have equine herpesvirus, but rather equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, a neurologic disease that shares some symptoms with herpesvirus.

Sal Sinatra, Philadelphia Park's director of racing, said that approximately 100 horses were scheduled to ship into the track on Wednesday morning. The first ship-ins will race on Saturday's card.

"A lot of guys in this area are anxious to race, and we've got a lot of guys that would like to leave," Sinatra said.

Philadelphia Park has been under a quarantine since Jan. 24. On Wednesday, the track still expected to enforce a ban on shippers based at Laurel and Pimlico, but Sinatra said that the track expects to lift that restriction soon after confirming with Maryland veterinary officials that all horses based at Laurel and Pimlico have tested negative.