The outbreak of an equine herpes virus at Belmont Park has caused Maryland racing officials to ban horses shipping into local tracks from Aqueduct, Belmont, Philadelphia and Garden State parks.
In addition, horses that leave Laurel and Pimlico race courses and the Bowie training center and ship to those tracks will not be allowed to return.
The ban might last up to 10 days. If it goes longer, entries for Laurel's Feb. 19-20 Sprint Fest, showpiece of the track's winter racing season, could be affected adversely.
One horse, Gliding Arrow, was turned away from the stable gate and scratched from Laurel's feature race yesterday after being shipped from Philadelphia Park.
"There are no out-of-state entries on today's card," said Lenny Hale, vice president of racing at Laurel/Pimlico. "And we alerted everyone that entered [from those out-of-town tracks] that they might not be able to run tomorrow."
At entry time yesterday, officials of the New York Racing Associationtracks had not confirmed that the suspect cases at Belmont were infected by equine herpes virus 1, otherwise known as equine viral rhinopneumonitis.
The virus causes pregnant mares to abort and in racehorses brings about high fevers, coughing, nasal discharge and possible rear-end paralysis. But by late afternoon, Bruce Lombardi, racing secretary at the NYRA tracks, said that veterinarians at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., had positively identified the Belmont cases as EHV1. NYRA also instituted a ban and will not allow horses to enter or leave its tracks.
Lombardi said that the outbreak of the virus first occurred in New York when three horses died at a riding academy near Aqueduct. Apparently, a veterinarian treating horses at the riding school also treated horses for trainer Mark Reid at Belmont Park.
Hale said yesterday that Reid had several sick horses in his barn, including one showing paralysis. "He [Reid] also has a string of horses at Philadelphia Park and has sick horses there, too. Since so many animals go back and forth from Philadelphia and Garden State Park, we thought it was also prudent to ban the Garden State Park horses from entering the Maryland tracks," he said.
"We're concerned and we're being super cautious because the horses either get better or they can die. It's not something to play around with, especially if a whole barn area were to come down with the virus."
According to veterinarians, transmission of the virus occurs by direct or indirect contact with virus-laden nasal discharge from the horses. "A horse could sneeze on a veterinarian working on him and then another horse could rub that vet's jacket," Hale said. "That's how easily it can be spread."
The incubation period for the virus is 10 days. "So if the horses are contained and nothing new happens, then conceivably in 10 days or sooner since some of the infected horses are already sick, the ban can be lifted," Hale said.
He added that the viral outbreak in New York will not affect horses shipping in from Florida or California for the upcoming Sprint Fest events, which include the $200,000 General George Stakes and the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap. At closing last night, more than 60 horses had been nominated to the two events, including several from New York tracks and Philadelphia and Garden State parks.
Arlington Park experienced a scare last summer when a virus called equine viral arteritis broke out at the Chicago track and adversely impacted Arlington Million entries.