Though cases of strangles at Palm Meadows Training Center in South Florida appear to have been confined, the five positive tests for the equine bacterial infection set in motion a chain of events up and down the East Coast.
New York Racing Association tracks, which this time of year typically welcome runners who have wintered in South Florida, said horses previously stabled in South Florida wouldn't be allowed to ship in until at least April 2. Similarly, Tampa Bay Downs declined entries from Palm Meadows, and Calder Race Course closed its gates to horses from Palm Meadows.
Fearing that other facilities may take similar action, some Palm Meadows-based trainers shipped their runners out of the Boynton Beach, Fla., facility to avoid possible quarantine.
"Because of the situation, we decided why take a chance?" trainer James Bond said after he put 20 horses on a van from Palm Meadows on March 26. "A lot of training centers now won't accept horses from (Palm Meadows), and it's very inconvenient for horsemen. With all of the big races around the country this time of year, this would be an especially bad time to be locked down."
Trainers Bobby Frankel and Nick Zito took similar action.
Bandini, a potential starter in the April 2 Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park, remained with trainer Todd Pletcher's stable at Palm Meadows. "We're taking a wait-and-see attitude," Pletcher said. "I don't expect any problems with running in the Florida Derby (gr. I)."
That's because Gulfstream continues to accept entries from Palm Meadows, and the track has established a special barn for Palm Meadows-based runners that were claimed by trainers stabled at Calder.
"We've taken extra precautions," said Gulfstream president Scott Savin, who noted the starting gate and receiving barns are being sanitized daily. "There may be some impact here, but I think we have it under control."
The five horses confirmed positive for strangles were all in the barn of trainer Dale Romans, whose stable had cases of strangles at Churchill Downs this winter. Romans' Palm Meadows horses remain in quarantine.
According to Palm Meadows' general manager Gary Van Den Broek, two horses from barns adjacent to Romans' barn have demonstrated suspicious symptoms, though they haven't been confirmed as positive. As a result, horses from those barns have been isolated and relegated to training after hours.
Van Den Broek and Savin joined Gulfstream track veterinarian Dr. Mary Scollay and United States Department of Agriculture veterinarian Dr. Julie Gauthier in a well-attended informational meeting for horsemen March 25. Van Den Broek said horsemen were concerned but not overly worried.
But Bond said it was understandable why owners and trainers would be worried. "Any time a horse spikes a temperature you're on pins and needles now for three days," he said.
Meanwhile, a second round of tests performed on horses quarantined in a pair of barns at Churchill Downs' Trackside training center in Louisville, Ky., show the number of confirmed cases of strangles has declined and there is no evidence the disease has spread beyond two barns.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture said tests performed on 49 horses showed 40 tested negative. Initially, 19 had tested positive. A third round of tests was scheduled for the week of March 28.
Churchill officials said precautionary measures such as quarantine would continue.