Horses in one barn at Prairie Meadows in Iowa have been quarantined due to a possible case of equine herpesvirus.
The order to keep horses from entering or leaving the barn area came late in the afternoon of June 6 after Storm Wrangler showed symptoms of the respiratory virus, which resulted in the death of two horses at Churchill Downs this spring.
Storm Wrangler, an unraced 3-year-old, had muscle cramps June 3 and was listless the next day. He has been taken to the Iowa State University veterinary clinic for examination. Trainer Paul Pearson said Storm Wrangler had been vaccinated for the disease.
Barn D-4, which houses horses from Pearson and six other trainers, is quarantined from other horses but not humans. Those horses couldn't train June 7 but they were walked in isolation from other horses. If the quarantine remains, Prairie Meadows would likely have to set up special training times for the horses, who won't be able to race until the threat of the virus has passed.
"It's tough for everybody," Pearson said. "We just have to hope for the best."
If Storm Wrangler's test comes back negative, things would return to normal in a day or two. Should the test be positive, it could create havoc.
"It's a serious thing," trainer Ray Tracy said. "If it would spread through the barn area, it could turn into an epidemic. I'm glad they're doing what they're doing. Hopefully, they'll get a handle on it before it's out of control."
For now, the quarantine affects trainers from other tracks that want to send horses to Prairie Meadows for a race. And it affects local trainers such as Glenn Bernis, Dick Clark, Ray Tracy, and Dave McShane, who rotate horses between farms and the track.
"It'll affect us bad if they can't come in or out for 30 days," Bernis said. "I took five horses to the farm (June 3) after they ran. If I can't come back for 30 days, I'll miss some stakes with them."
If Storm Wrangler tests positive, the extent of the restrictions would be left up to state veterinarians. Even if they allow horses that test negative from non-infected barns to leave, as Churchill Downs did, other tracks may not accept them. Likewise, horses that come to Prairie Meadows might not be able to leave, even if they are kept isolated from other horses.
"I've already talked to Minnesota, and until we know for sure, they won't let horses come back," said Dr. Keith Soring, a state veterinarian at Prairie Meadows. "Until the tests are back, we're just taking some precautions. We're all hoping that the horse comes back negative and it's just a common virus."
One of the precautions is to have outriders and members the starting gate crew wash their hands with disinfectants between races. While equine herpesvirus is generally passed through coughing, sneezing, or breathing, if saliva from an infected horse touches a human, the disease can be carried to another horse.
If the virus is confirmed and lingers, it could create problems in early July, when the track's racing festival is scheduled. The festival offers $1 million for six stakes July 1-4 and traditionally lures many horses from other tracks.
"It's a major cause for concern, but until we know what it is, we'll just deal with, 'What if?' " racing secretary Dan Doocy said. "Obviously, if it comes back positive, depending on what the (state) vet does, it could have a major impact on our meet. But that's speculation at this point."