State herpes crisis at its `official' end

Final 4 horses in isolation test negative for virus

Horse Racing


The Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Maryland Jockey Club sounded the all-clear yesterday, when test results on the final four horses in isolation tested negative for the equine herpes Type 1 virus.

"These negative tests bring this EHV-1 outbreak to official closure in Maryland as all hold orders have been lifted, and there are no reported signs of the virus anywhere in the state," state veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus said. "This is good news for all of Maryland's horse owners and related businesses."

Last week, all but four horses - two at Pimlico Race Course and two at Laurel Park - tested negative for the virus. Those four, now clean, are being moved back to their regular stable areas to resume normal workouts.

The virus, which causes upper respiratory infection and can also cause neurological problems, first appeared in Maryland at Pimlico on Jan. 2. Subsequent to that, six horses were euthanized and 19 others were made ill, as the virus spread to Laurel Park, a farm in Kent County and the Fair Hill Training Center. During that time, the MJC imposed an 18-day blanket quarantine on the entire Pimlico barn area. The MJC also canceled three days of live racing due to the lack of entries and canceled the running of its two Grade II Breeders' Cup handicaps, the Barbara Fritchie and the General George, the premier races on Laurel's winter card.

Upon hearing the news of totally clean stable areas, MJC racing secretary Georganne Hale said: "I feel like I've hit the lottery. ... For more than two months it has been like having an aching toothache."

While trainers at Pimlico, Laurel Park and the Bowie Training Center are waiting for clearance from other states to run elsewhere, Fair Hill manager Sally Goswell said two Fair Hill horses with clean health certificates were allowed to run in New York state yesterday. Four more will run today, and as many as six are scheduled to run at Philadelphia Park on Saturday.

Fair Hill, which is still waiting for its final clearance test results, has been allowing its horses to run at Laurel Park throughout the ordeal, but it was not allowing those horses to return to the training facility if they did. Goswell said that will continue to be the case until other states lift their restrictions on horses at Pimlico, Laurel Park and Bowie.

MJC president and chief operating officer Lou Raffetto said he hopes yesterday's test results will "act as a catalyst" for other states to begin lifting their bans, enabling trainers who normally compete elsewhere to go back to their usual operations.

Two of those trainers, Dale Capuano and Mike Trombetta, hope to have entries at Aqueduct in New York on March 18. Capuano plans to run his undefeated filly Celestial Legend in the $100,000, Grade III Cicada Stakes, while Trombetta hopes to run Sweetnorthernsaint in the Gotham Stakes, a Grade III Kentucky Derby prep race.

Both men described the test results as "terrific news" and said they hoped to hear today or tomorrow whether their entries will be allowed.

"Until the tests were negative, we had no shot," Capuano said.

"Now, there is nothing for sure," Trombetta said. "But it's heading in the right direction."

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