Despite having to limit fields to horses stabled only at Monmouth Park due to four confirmed cases of the equine herpesvirus and a subsequent decline in total handle, New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority officials are planning to finish the meet at Meadowlands on Nov. 11 as scheduled.
Meanwhile, on Oct. 27, two Pennsylvania racetracks announced they have closed their stable gates to all shippers, not just to those from New Jersey.
"We think we can get through this," said Dennis Dowd, senior vice president of racing for the NJSEA. "If we shut down, New Jersey horsemen make no money. We want to do everything we can do to keep this thing going."
Dowd estimates there was an 8%-10% percent drop in total handle Oct. 24-25 and a higher decline Oct. 26, though he didn't have the exact numbers.
"It's significant," he said. "Before the EHV-1 outbreak, we were actually doing OK, numbers-wise, for the meet."
At Monmouth, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture has placed nearly 1,100 horses under quarantine. Those that have not exhibited signs of the disease are able to race at Meadowlands in East Rutherford but must return to Monmouth.
Because of the number of horses that ship from state to state in the Mid-Atlantic region, other tracks have taken action.
"We're going to have this restriction in effect for at least 21 days," Sal Sinatra, Philadelphia Park's director of racing, said of the 21-day ban on shippers.
Penn National Race Course also has taken the same steps to ensure its horse population isn't exposed to the virus. Earlier this year, a horse that ran at Laurel Park in Maryland and returned to Penn National tested positive for the EHV-1 virus, triggering an almost four-week restriction on shippers at most tracks in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Horses trained by Justin Nixon, John Forbes, Bill Anderson, and Tim Hills have been separated from the rest of the horse population in two barns at Monmouth, and are not able to move to other facilities for 21 days.
Meadowlands cards for Oct. 24-25 were hit with a large number of scratches from out-of-state horsemen who would have been required to return their horses to Monmouth after they raced. Beginning with the Oct. 26 program, the racing office filled races with Monmouth horses only, and was able to card eight races for Oct. 27 and nine for Oct. 28.
The track ran only seven races the evening of Oct. 26. While there were 60 scratches in total Oct. 24-25, there were only 13 scratches Oct. 26.
"We are concerned about the limited amount of entries and number of races at Meadowlands," said Dennis Drazin, president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "However, we would be insisting that the NJSEA go forward if there was any thought of calling off the rest of the meet."
Drazin, a Thoroughbred owner and breeder, has one horse in the barn of John Forbes. The NJSEA may have separate training hours for the horses in the two quarantined barns this weekend, but Dowd said there are some concerns that need to be addressed.
"There is currently massive construction going on at Monmouth right now, with crews putting a new roof on the grandstand," Dowd said. The construction, he said, begins when the training hours end. Also, separate training times for each of the two barns must be created, because all the horses that have tested positive for EHV-1 came from the barn of Nixon and Forbes.
Dowd said state guidelines for sanitizing the paddock and starting gate are causing the NJSEA to incur additional expenses.
"Our people are also disinfecting the horse vans that come up from Monmouth, as well as the paddock and starting gate after every race," he said. "The gate crew and horse (identification) person have to use disposable gloves."
Dowd praised the veterinarians at Monmouth for their quick response when the virus was first suspected. "I can't say enough about those guys," he said.