12/29/2008 1:00AM

Officials hopeful ship-in ban will end


A meeting of the Louisiana State Racing Commission was being convened late Monday afternoon in Baton Rouge in order to coordinate further response to an equine herpes outbreak at Fair Grounds. A ban on horses shipping into and out of the track was imposed over the weekend, leading to a great number of scratches on Sunday's and Monday's cards, and Fair Grounds racing officials were hopeful the shipping ban will be lifted before racing resumes at the track Wednesday.

Track officials, the commission, and the Louisiana and United States departments of agriculture were to gauge the results Monday of herpes tests performed on horses in a barn that housed a filly who was diagnosed with the disease last week. That filly, Diamond Song, is in Kentucky, and so far is the only horse to have shown symptoms of the virus, which causes fever and upper-respiratory distress and is highly contagious.

Eric Halstrom, Fair Grounds's assistant general manager and vice president of racing, said that all the herpes tests had been completed, and that five positives had been reported. But Halstrom said that the positives were not the neurological strain of the virus that had affected the filly last week.

"My understanding is that some part of the horse population carries this normally in their body," said Halstrom.

Dr. Tom David, the commission's equine medical director, confirmed that all the test results were in, but declined to discuss the results pending the Monday meeting.

Quarantine restrictions quickly were imposed on the barn where the infected horse was housed, and those horses cannot train with the general Fair Grounds population nor can they be entered to race during the quarantine period. Last Friday and Saturday, horses were allowed in and out of Fair Grounds, but on Saturday afternoon, the commission imposed a total shipping ban at the track. With horses based in central Louisiana barred from racing, Fair Grounds had 44 scratches Sunday, and 37 more Monday. Monday's races also were off the turf, causing scratches that would have happened regardless of the herpes issue. But the ban destroyed some Louisiana-bred races; Monday's second race had 14 horses entered, but only two actually started.

Halstrom said he was hopeful that the Monday evening meeting would end the shipping ban before another race day at Fair Grounds.

"We're hoping to get the ship-in thing straight to keep our business going the right way," he said.

Plans for On the Menu up in the air

While the quarantine at Fair Grounds affects only horses trained by Dallas Stewart and Neil Howard, the shipping restrictions impacts any Fair Grounds-based trainer who has a horse he would like to race at another track. Take Larry Jones: He sent out a 2-year-old filly named On the Menu to a sparkling entry-level allowance win on Saturday, but until the shipping ban is lifted, Jones can't be sure what to do with her.

"Right now, we don't know how fast we're going to be able to get out of here," Jones said. "There are stakes at Delta or opening day at Oaklawn for this horse, but we don't know if we'll be able to leave."

On the Menu, a Brereton Jones homebred, was making her third career start, having won her debut at Delaware before finishing seventh in the Grade 2 Matron at Belmont. Saturday, she pressed a fast pace, took over turning for home, and beat a Steve Asmussen-trained favorite named Heart Ashley by more than seven lengths. Her win came at six furlongs, and Jones said he would prefer to keep On the Menu in one-turn races for now, but would consider the one-mile Tiffany Lass on Jan. 10 if the Fair Grounds shipping ban persists.

Jones said he's still uncertain how he will play his 2-year-old colt hand in the Jan. 10 Lecomte Stakes. His two main hopefuls for that race, Friesan Fire and It Happened Again, both turned in disappointing Fair Grounds efforts, and while Jones said it was likely one would start in the Lecomte, he did not rule out a surprise appearance from undefeated Old Fashioned, one of the winter favorites for the Kentucky Derby. Old Fashioned has yet to post a breeze at Fair Grounds, but Jones said he planned to work the colt within a week.

"He is nominated to the Lecomte," Jones said. "One five-eighths breeze and he'd be ready."

Two riders avoid serious injury

Two jockeys went down in two days at Fair Grounds, but neither Donnie Meche, who took a hard spill when his mount broke down in Sunday's first race, nor Francisco Torres, who was thrown at the start on Monday, was seriously injured.

Meche, who was taken from the track on a stretcher, and was transported to a local hospital, was off his mounts Monday, but had no broken bones, and expected to ride Wednesday, according to his agent, Rick Mocklin.

Torres sought ontrack treatment and did not go to the hospital, but took off his mounts the second half of Monday's card. Torres has been leading rider since opening weekend at the meet, but was passed Monday by Jamie Theriot, who ended the card with a 27-26 lead.