10/26/2006 12:00AM

Monmouth quarantine to last at least three weeks


The New Jersey Department of Agriculture on Thursday told New Jersey racing officials and horsemen that Monmouth Park will be under quarantine for at least the next three weeks because of an outbreak of equine herpesvirus at the track.

The outbreak was confirmed on Wednesday when four horses tested positive for the highly contagious disease, which attacks a horse's upper respiratory and neurological systems. Fourteen horses are currently in an isolation barn at Monmouth after displaying mild symptoms of the disease, which can include a fever and a loss of coordination. Two other barns at Monmouth have been under quarantine since Sunday.

According to the New Jersey's agriculture department, the track cannot be lifted from quarantine until 21 days after the last horse has stopped displaying any symptoms of herpesvirus. Because the horses in the isolation barn are not currently displaying any outward symptoms, that period will likely begin on Friday, barring any new cases.

Mike Dempsey, the racing secretary for Monmouth Park and its sister track, the Meadowlands, said that the Meadowlands will prohibit any horse other than those based at Monmouth from running at the Meadowlands until the track's meet ends on Nov. 11. An exception will be for horses that ship to the Meadowlands from a private farm and ship back to the farm immediately after the race, Dempsey said.

The racing office took entries on Thursday for eight races for the Meadowlands' Saturday card. Before the restrictions were put in place, the Meadowlands would typically run nine races on a Saturday. Seventy-three horses, including three entered for the main track only, were entered for this Saturday's card.

Dempsey said that the Meadowlands will likely pare races from other race cards, but the track has not determined which cards will be shortened. The Meadowlands will not cut any of its overnight stakes from the schedule.

"We're going to do the best we can," Dempsey said. "The horsemen are all cooperating and trying to run as much as they can. But we're going to have fewer races, and we're going to have smaller fields."

The racing office is also attempting to work out a schedule to allow horses in the the quarantined barn and the isolation barn to train over the main track in the morning, Dempsey said. Although no formal plans have been worked out, Monmouth will likely open and close the track earlier for general training hours, and then reopen the track for the quarantined horses for an additional 90 minutes, Dempsey said.