01/06/2006 12:00AM

Pimlico isolates horses due to suspected herpes


Two suspected cases of the equine herpes virus have caused officials at Pimlico Race Course to isolate five horses in the track's detention barn and to quarantine another 40-horse barn, track officials said Friday. The precautions are in place as Maryland officials await results of tests to determine if a horse euthanized on Monday had been sick from the virus.

The five isolated horses are displaying elevated temperatures and had come in contact with the horse that was euthanized. One of the five horses is displaying symptoms that extend beyond a fever, according to Dr. David G. Zipf, chief veterinarian with the Maryland Racing Commission.

The potential discovery of the equine herpes virus at Pimlico comes three weeks after the equine herpes virus was found at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. A quarantine continues at Turfway, and two horses there, a racehorse and one used by an outrider, have been put down after suffering from the virus.

The equine herpes virus is a contagious disease that can cause upper respiratory and neurological problems. The virus is transmitted mostly in horse-to-horse contact, much the same way a cold is spread among humans.

Zipf said there was no recent evidence of the euthanized horse at Pimlico being at Turfway Park or even leaving the Pimlico grounds.

"We're under the impression that a horse can pick up this virus, and it might be a year later that symptoms appear," he said. "There is a stress factor" that triggers the virus and brings distress.

Unlike Turfway, Pimlico is not in the midst of a live meet. But some horses stabled there during the winter months compete at Laurel Park and other tracks in the region. The Pimlico spring meeting begins in mid-April.

"It's fortunate for us that the situation is isolated to the one barn at Pimlico, where we are not racing," said Georganne Hale, director of racing for the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel Park and Pimlico. "Racing [at Laurel] is continuing as usual."

Under the rules of the quarantine in place at Pimlico, horses stabled in barn five - those being trained by William Christmas, Charles Frock, Robert Gamber, Hassan Elamri, and David Mohan - will not be permitted to race until tests results indicate no presence of the virus, Zipf said. The quarantined horses are allowed to train separate from the general horse population, following regular morning training hours.

Turfway Park and Kentucky Agriculture officials have also taken added precautions in recent days after the virus appeared to circulate within the barns stabling track ponies and horses used by the outriders. Dr. Robert Stout, state veterinarian for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, said the horses stabled in the pony and outrider barns have been transferred off the track to the Boone County Fair Grounds in Kentucky. Substitute outrider horses are being used.

A quarantine of a racehorse barn there remains in place. The latest test results on those horses were not expected until Saturday. Earlier tests showed the virus had not cleared the systems of all the horses in the quarantined racehorse barn.

Stout said the removal of the ponies from the designated pony barn was largely a precautionary measure. Ponies are mostly used to accompany horses to the starting gate, and jockeys rely on the pony and the pony's rider to help keep their mounts from getting loose.

Thursday night at Turfway many racehorses went to the starting gate without ponies, and Friday evening's races were also expected to have little use of ponies. Jockey Willie Martinez said the riders there are sympathetic to the circumstances at Turfway, but have safety concerns.

"Like tonight, I ride two first-time starters that I've never been on," he said Friday afternoon. "Who knows what is going to happen?"

Meanwhile, Beulah Park in Grove City, Ohio, has implemented new procedures for horses shipping there from Kentucky. Current coggins certificates are required, as are health certificates dated within 48 hours of entry to Beulah Park. Effective Wednesday, all horses shipping to Beulah Park from Kentucky must have an equine herpes vaccine dated seven days before shipping and not older than 90 days.