05/22/2005 11:00PM

Some herpes horses training


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Horses in two of the three Churchill Downs barns placed under quarantine because of confirmed cases of equine herpes virus had resumed training apart from the general horse population by Monday.

Horses stabled at Churchill in Barn 39, those trained by Paul McGee, Bill Cesare, and Ron Ellis, were allowed to return to training late Saturday after clearing blood tests, and Monday morning trainer Steve Asmussen's horses stabled in Barn 38 joined them.

That leaves Barn 6 as the only Churchill Downs barn in which horses remain confined. Barn 6 stables horses trained by Ronny Werner. A Churchill Downs spokesman, John Asher, said state officials could allow those horses to resume training by Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on how quickly test results for blood tests on Werner's horses become available and if all horses stabled there test negative for the virus.

The symptoms of equine herpes, a potentially fatal virus, include fever and upper respiratory infection. The most severe neurological symptoms of the disease include a loss of coordination. Earlier this meet two horses suffering from the virus were euthanized after being unable to stand. There have been five confirmed cases at Churchill, state officials said last week.

Equine herpes virus can be spread through the air, typically no farther than 35 feet.

The training schedule for the horses affected by the equine herpes virus quarantine includes late-morning sessions at 11 a.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, dark days at Churchill. They can train at 6:15 p.m. on race days, except for Fridays, when no special training hours will be permitted because of a late-afternoon post time, track officials said.

"It's encouraging that we get to train," said Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, who had three horses suffer complications from the virus. "This thing left as fast as it came."

Asmussen has declined to reveal the names of his horses who had the equine herpes virus. Blasi said Monday that Summerly, winner of the Kentucky Oaks, did not catch the virus.

Although Blasi and McGee were both pleased to have their horses back on track, they expressed frustration over the limited time available for their horses to train. The restriction forces them to send more horses than usual to the track at once. Typically their horses will have about an hour available to train.

Blasi, who oversees 35 horses in Asmussen's barn, said he would likely have to send horses to the track in sets of 12 to 14. McGee has sent his 33 horses to the track in sets of 11, he said, when he would normally send them out in groups of four. This has forced him to have to employ more riders and hotwalkers, he said.

To allow the off-hours workouts, Churchill Downs has had to make arrangements with the track maintenance and ambulance crews and hire additional outriders, Asher said.

Unable to train on Friday, McGee intends to use that morning as a post-breeze "walk day" for his horses. "Instead of having 33 breezing Thursday," he said, "I'll probably do some on Wednesday."

Officials with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture say the recommended length of the quarantine is 21 days after the last horse in a barn displays clinical symptoms of the virus. Barring further cases of equine herpes being discovered in the quarantined barns, the affected stables could begin racing their horses in first or second week of June, with horses from Barn 39 likely being the first to be eligible to race.

The source of the equine herpes virus at Churchill Downs has not yet been determined by the Kentucky Agriculture Department.