11/10/2006 1:00AM

Quarantine lifted at Monmouth Park


The New Jersey Department of Agriculture on Friday lifted restrictions on the movement of horses from Monmouth Park, freeing up approximately 1,100 horses to ship to other racetracks and locations after a three-week quarantine at the track.

The lifting of the restriction came as welcome news to a number of racetracks that rely on shippers from New Jersey to fill race cards. The meet at Monmouth's sister track, the Meadowlands, closes on Saturday, and after that, live racing for Thoroughbreds in the state will shut down for the winter.

"We've been going fairly strong, entry-wise, so far, but it's always good to have those guys in the mix," said P.J. Campo, the racing secretary at Aqueduct in New York. "The New Jersey guys will need a place to run after Sunday, and they love to run."

Monmouth Park has been under quarantine since Oct. 26, after four horses tested positive for equine herpesvirus, a highly contagious diseases that attacks a horse's upper respiratory and neurological systems. The quarantine prohibited any horse from leaving the track except to run at the Meadowlands.

Monmouth Park expects to close its backstretch on Dec. 1, according to Chris McErlean, the vice president of racing at Monmouth and the Meadowlands. McErlean said that the quarantine on the three barns housing horses that were known to be exposed to horses with herpesvirus will likely be lifted on Dec. 16.

The Monmouth outbreak, which was traced to Adena Springs North in Canada, was the second herpesvirus outbreak in North America in the past 12 months. Late last year, herpesvirus was detected at Turfway Park in Kentucky, and later that winter, the virus closed backstretches from Maryland to Pennsylvania.

The latest outbreak did not expand beyond New Jersey, although the New York Racing Association earlier this week isolated horses in Nick Zito's barn to test two horses for herpesvirus. Those horses had spent time at a clinic in New Jersey that was quarantined on Nov. 3 because a horse being treated for colic tested positive for the disease. Zito's horses tested negative Thursday and the restrictions were lifted.

Separately in New Jersey, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the state-run owner of the two tracks, has offered buyout packages to all its employees, including those in administration at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands, in an effort to cut the full-time staff at the authority by 20 percent, or 50 positions. According to the authority, approximately 250 people are currently employed full-time by the agency.