03/18/2003 12:00AM

Virus at Turfway contained

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A potentially massive problem that could have jeopardized the running of the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes on Saturday at Turfway Park apparently has been resolved after officials acted swiftly Tuesday to contain an equine virus diagnosed in three horses stabled at the Florence, Ky., track.

The three infected horses, all with the same trainer, are being confined under quarantine for an indefinite period in Barn 15, which houses about 80 horses. The horses were diagnosed Monday with equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1), a disease that can severely affect a horse's respiratory and/or neurological systems. The potentially fatal disease can be transmitted through airborne particles, making it highly contagious. The non-infected horses in Barn 15 are also under quarantine.

Following lengthy consultation with the Kentucky state veterinarian's office and scientists at the Maxwell Gluck Research Center in Lexington, and after the appropriate restrictions were put into effect, Turfway officials concluded that neither the balance of the estimated 950 horses stabled at Turfway, nor the 50 or 60 horses that typically ship into the track on race days, are at serious risk of infection.

Turfway president Bob Elliston said Tuesday during a press teleconference that because the spread of the virus was halted in time, he fully expected the Lane's End to "go off without a hitch." All horsemen planning to run in the Lane's End have been duly notified about the issue, said Elliston. Shippers will be housed only in the stakes or receiving barns, where all stalls have been stripped and sanitized. All stalls in the detention barn, where postrace tests are conducted, also have stripped and sanitized.

Dr. David Powell, a world-renowned equine researcher at the Gluck Center, said in a press release that he is "confident that the steps taken by Turfway will considerably reduce the further spread of the virus."

Elliston said the track will not release the identities of the infected horses or their trainer. The three positively tested horses have responded favorably to treatment thus far and are not in serious danger, he added, and the other horses in Barn 15 also will be monitored closely by veterinarians. Quarantine restrictions in such cases typically last about 21 days, he said.

EHV-1 is believed to be responsible for the deaths of at least 10 horses in Ohio earlier this year; those horses were not Thoroughbred racehorses. EHV-1 also was diagnosed recently in at least two racehorses based at Penn National, leading neighboring Philadelphia Park and tracks in West Virginia to temporarily ban shippers from Penn.

With the Lane's End being the biggest race of the year at Turfway, the EHV-1 scare could have been just the latest whammy on what has become a tough-luck racetrack. Since 1995, when several riverboat casinos became operational in neighboring Indiana, business at Turfway has been in a steady decline. In 1998, on the morning of the Jim Beam Stakes (now the Lane's End), a utility pole was blown over on the racetrack grounds, severing all electrical power to the racetrack and forcing postponement of the race by one day. More recently, a prolonged streak of nasty weather forced Turfway to cancel 15 programs this winter, costing the track more than $3 million in gross revenues.