01/10/2006 12:00AM

W.Va. bans shippers in herpes scare

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The West Virginia Racing Commission, which oversees Mountaineer Park and Charles Town, on Tuesday banned racehorses from Kentucky and Maryland because of the ongoing equine herpes virus scare, effective indefinitely.

The ban comes as track officials and veterinarians at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., are taking extensive precautions to prevent the virus from spreading. At Pimlico, six horses have been quarantined in the detention barn after one was euthanized last week after contracting the disease, while two separate barns at Turfway are being quarantined.

The ban figures to affect entries at both West Virginia tracks, since Charles Town draws a significant number of horses from Maryland, and Mountaineer gets a fair number of Kentucky shippers.

At Turfway, track officials, along with representatives of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, met Tuesday afternoon to establish a timetable for testing for the virus in the two barns that are under quarantine. Horses in Barn 27 were tested Tuesday and horses in Barn 26 were to be tested Wednesday, with results expected in about 72 hours. Turfway said the horses will be tested again in about a week.

Turfway issued a press release saying that state agriculture officials have "given assurance that the protocols and testing regimen implemented have proven their effectiveness in minimizing the spread of the virus" and that horses training and racing at Turfway "should have minimal risk of exposure."

One horse at Turfway and one at Pimlico have been euthanized recently because of the disease. Those horses, respectively, were Coupe Aux Marrons, a 4-year-old filly trained by Chuck Simon, and News Reporter, a 5-year-old gelding trained by Charles Frock.

The equine herpes virus is a contagious disease that can lead to severe upper respiratory and neurological problems. It is transmitted mostly by horse-to-horse contact. This is the second significant outbreak of the virus within the last nine months; the first, which occurred in May at Churchill Downs, was successfully contained following a quarantine period of several weeks.

Meanwhile, at Philadelphia Park in Bensalem, Pa., horses from Kentucky and Pimlico are being accepted on condition of an updated health certificate and vaccination for the herpes virus. Beulah Park, in Grove City, Ohio, implemented a similar policy last week. The Philadelphia policy does not apply to Maryland horses other than those from Pimlico, where the only herpes cases are suspected.