Hopes are high that an exemption for hoof and mouth quarantine restrictions can be secured next week and allow European horses easier access to some key Belmont Park prep races for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
As of now, several European trainers are having second thoughts about shipping to the United States because of a U.S. Department of Agriculture rule that bans horses from countries with cases of hoof and mouth from staying at private quarantine centers. The rule means all horses must spend 48 hours at the quarantine center in Newburgh, N.Y.
"That is a general quarantine facility and trainers are reluctant to leave their horses in there for two days for these particular prep races," said Alastair Donald, deputy chief executive of International Racing Bureau in Newmarket, England.
The rule has already had a negative effect at Arlington. The IRB's Adrian Beaumont told the Daily Racing Form
that "four or five European horses had been considering the American Derby, but they all stayed home rather than go through the off-track quarantine."
New York Racing Association president Terry Meyocks said he is optimistic an exemption that would allow the association to set up a quarantine facility at Aqueduct could be approved by next week. If the exemption is approved, European horses will have easier access to Belmont Park races beginning with the Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) and the Flower Bowl Invitational Handicap (gr. IT) on Sept. 29.
"I talked to them this morning," Meyocks said Friday. "They are going to look at changing the current stipulations on the quarantine. They felt next weekend would be too close because of the Labor Day holiday. We will need a decision next week, but right now there is plenty of time to get things set (by Sept. 29). We can do this with our eyes closed we've done it so many times."
The quarantine did not affect the Arlington Million and won't affect the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park because exemptions for an on-site quarantine facility were secured in May, according to Pam Blatz-Murff, senior vice president of Breeders' Cup operations.
"When hoof and mouth was in the process of breaking out in Europe, Breeders' Cup immediately went to Washington and got approval to have on-site quarantine sites," she said.
The USDA closed down the private quarantine sites to ensure greater control over the cleaning and spraying of horses, and the sanitizing or disposal of potentially contaminated equipment and tack.
"Because there are so many horses involved and because of the size of the event, we will be able to do everything," Blatz-Murff said. "For one or two horses it would have been different."
Pancho Zahariou of Mersant International, a shipping agency that handles most European importations, is hoping the USDA and NYRA can come to an agreement and provide some relief.
"We are totally frustrated and exhausted about the way things are going," he told the Racing Form.