12/27/2006 1:00AM

Payson quarantine may be eased

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MIAMI - Calder Race Course accepted entries on Wednesday for Saturday's Grand Slam III card from horses stabled at Payson Park in the hope that the quarantine of the training facility will be lifted before the weekend.

Payson Park was quarantined on Saturday after a horse trained by John Hennig died Friday from an illness symptomatic of equine herpesvirus. The results of an autopsy being performed at the University of Kentucky were not available as of Wednesday. Calder had not accepted entries from Payson horses since Saturday.

According to Mark Fagan, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture, a decision on whether to lift the quarantine for at least a portion of the Payson Park barn area was to be announced either late Thursday or on Friday. That decision will be made following a meeting between Dr. Michael Short, an equine herpesvirus expert who toured Payson Park on Wednesday, and Dr. Thomas Holt, the director for the Division of Animal Industry for the Florida Department of Agriculture.

"Dr. Holt will be down here late Thursday and will discuss the situation with Dr. Short," Fagan explained. "And there is a possibility the department could remove the quarantine on those horses who have not been in direct contact with the infected horse or any others from the same barn."

Equine herpesvirus is a contagious disease spread among horses. It carries flu-like symptoms, including fever or respiratory infection, and can prove fatal in extreme cases.

Calder racing secretary Mike Anifantis said he was informed early Wednesday of the possibility that the quarantine could be lifted in time to allow horses stabled at Payson, in Indiantown Gap, to compete on Saturday's card.

"We decided to take entries on horses stabled at Payson and hope for the best," Anifantis said Wednesday, shortly after closing Saturday's 12-race card that includes four stakes.

Among the prospective starters for the Grade 3 Francis A. Genter Stakes are Captive Melody and Saoirse Cat, who are stabled at Payson with trainers Christophe Clement and Bill Mott.

The quarantine decision will also affect the status of Darley Stable phenom Discreet Cat and three of his stablemates, all of whom are scheduled to depart for Dubai on Friday.

"The four horses are due to leave Friday, and hopefully we'll be able to get them out on schedule," said assistant trainer Rick Mettee. "If they are delayed a few days it would be only a minor inconvenience, because none are scheduled to race in Dubai until the end of January or in February. If this situation lingered a couple of weeks or longer then it would be a problem, because it could interfere with their training for those races."