05/27/2005 12:00AM

Possible strangles case at Belmont


ELMONT, N.Y. - A horse stabled on the Belmont Park backstretch has been put in isolation after she "exhibited signs suggestive of possible strangles," according to New York Racing Association chief veterinarian Celeste Kunz.

The horse, Lady Libby, trained by Steve Kappes, was isolated in a stall near the detention barn. All 59 horses stabled in Belmont's Barn 60, where Lady Libby was stabled, have been quarantined. Those horses will be prohibited from racing or training for the foreseeable future.

Trainers with horses in that barn include Gary Sciacca, Dan Peitz, Bruce Levine, and Everett Schoenborn. The stewards scratched the Sciacca-trained Rochioli from Friday's first race as a precaution.

The suspected case of strangles comes two weeks before Belmont Park hosts the $1 million Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown. Due to the suspected case of strangles, trainer Tim Ritchey has elected to keep Preakness winner Afleet Alex at Pimlico until the early part of next week. Ritchey was originally planning to ship Afleet Alex to Belmont on Saturday. Now, Ritchey plans to work Afleet Alex at Pimlico on Tuesday.

"I can't take a shot shipping into New York right now with this horse and expose him to something," Ritchey said. "I talked to the people at Pimlico, and we'll stay here at least until Tuesday. By that time, NYRA will hopefully know what they are dealing with and have control of the situation."

Strangles, an upper respiratory disease that is highly contagious but rarely fatal, has been detected at tracks and training centers in Kentucky, Indiana, south Florida and, most recently, Delaware Park. Symptoms of the disease include nasal discharge, fever, and swollen lymph nodes.

Lady Libby had swelling of the lymph nodes, an abscess under her neck, and, in recent weeks, had been battling a fever. According to Kappes, Lady Libby's temperature rose as high as 106.5 degrees, but had been under control in recent days. Lady Libby has not been to the racetrack to train since running last in the Beaugay Handicap at Aqueduct on April 30.

"It just perplexes me as to where she could have gotten it," Kappes said. "She hasn't been anywhere, and nobody else is sick."

Kunz and veterinarian Russell Cohn tested every horse in Barn 60 on Friday. Test samples will be sent to a local laboratory and to the University of Illinois. Kunz said she wasn't sure how long the horses in that barn would be restricted from training or racing.