05/20/2001 11:00PM

Precautions taken for foal disease

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Florida has not yet had any indigenous cases of the devastating disease that is threatening the Kentucky breeding industry. But vigilance is high, and all mares entering the state from Kentucky are being tracked, with a recommendation that mares who may or may not have been exposed be placed in a precautionary 15-day isolation.

Dr. William C. Jeter, DVM, is the point man for Florida's Department of Agriculture Bureau of Animal Disease Control. As of earlier this week, according to Jeter, 195 permits covering nearly 300 horses returning from Kentucky have been filed with the Animal Disease Control department. While Jeter was reluctant to speculate about the spread of the disease, he did say that "there has been no evidence that Florida has ever been subject to a pandemic disease like the one in Kentucky."

By way of explaining Florida's immunity up till now, Jeter said, "Florida has different grasses and a different climate from Kentucky. I am sure that from time to time an individual horse may have responded to a grass toxin, but these would have to be relatively rare cases.

"There is no certainty when this disease will run its course. These toxins have a long life and the endophytes they produce can be around for a long time. I understand that some farms in Kentucky have introduced a feed supplement that binds the endophytes to the gut, and this prevents them from circulating through the system. No, I don't know how long this problem will continue. No one does."

Mike Sherman of Farnsworth Farms has been affected, although not as badly as he would have been if this had happened a year ago. "Last year I had 30 mares in Kentucky being bred, and some were sent there to foal and be re-bred. This year I sent seven, and of these two have aborted. As to the others, it is a bit too soon to know what is going to happen to them.

"This business benefits no one. Some think that those who breed elsewhere, like Florida, will benefit from the coming shortage of horses. I don't think so. All of us in the industry get hurt. Some breeders will go bankrupt. Others will just get out of the business. These are bad times for everyone. I have not returned any mares from Kentucky nor do I intend to do so until the time has come to return to Florida - in foal or not."

At the southeast tip of Marion County is Sez Who Thoroughbreds. Steve Silver, the director of Thoroughbred operations there, was unsure as to the effect on that farm.

"We are leaving the seven mares we have in Kentucky in Kentucky," said Silver. "We had 60 mares there. Have we been impacted by the disease? That's hard to say, as the abortions and the problems we have had are more or less what you would ordinarily expect given the nature of this business. Those mares we will be bringing back will go into some sort of isolation for the prescribed time, but I am not really sure, nor is anyone else for that matter, if this will do any good.

"No one at this point gives much credence to the problem being airborne but who knows? Hopefully, we'll all get out of this okay."