Though the Maryland Jockey Club has stepped up its fight against the equine herpesvirus 1 that has frightened horsemen throughout the state with a quarantine of the entire Pimlico Race Course stable area, some trainers continued to worry the move may have come too late.
"I don't know how much relief I feel," said Laurel-based trainer Dale Capuano. "My thought is, 'It's about time.'"
EHV-1 first appeared at Pimlico Jan.2 and resulted in the death of News Reporter, a 5-year-old gelding, in Barn 5 on the backside of the racetrack. Since then, another horse has been euthanized, eight others have tested positive for the virus, and still another horse, a quarter-mile away in Barn A on the frontstretch, appears to have the virus. Test results are due back this week.
"Pimlico is closed until further notice,'' said MJC chief operating officer Lou Raffetto. "This is a precautionary measure. It is in our best interest to restrict the movement in and out of Pimlico until we know if the last horse that got sick in Barn A has the disease. If it is not positive, we'll re-evaluate.''
There is no racing at Pimlico now. But, at Laurel Park, the quarantine has already impacted entries for this week's racing card. Instead of the usual nine races Wednesday, there will be eight. Less than 60 horses have been entered for that day's program. There will be nine races Thursday with 84 horses, near the average number, signed up.
Raffetto also said Laurel's Sprint Festival, which includes the $300,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap (gr. II) Feb. 18 and the $300,000 General George Handicap (gr. II) Feb. 20, could be affected if the virus situation is not cleared up within the next two weeks.
"We're not going to jeopardize the quality of the racing program here," Raffetto said. "We have to get this situation cleared up. But if it's the same as it is now, we would move the dates."
Raffetto said he made the decision to quarantine Pimlico after learning a horse at Penn National that had raced at Laurel Park the same day as Kalli Calling contracted the virus. The Simon Purdy-trained Kalli Calling was euthanized last week.
"We felt we had to do something,'' Raffetto said. "We don't know if she had it before she came here or got it that day.''
Maryland Racing Commission vet David Zipf said the horse developed its first symptoms four days after racing at Laurel.
"Incubation usually takes seven to 10 days," said Zipf. "But there are a lot of variables – individual immune systems, body chemistry. Still, this horse could have been harboring the disease. But it did test positive for the herpesvirus 1 and is now showing quite extreme and advanced signs – ataxic, uncoordinated, a wobbly behind – a typical case.''
Penn National, like most other tracks in the region, is not accepting entries from any Maryland horses. It also is not taking any horse that has competed or worked at a Maryland track since Jan. 9.
"You have to get the picture clear,'' said MTHA president Richard Hoffberger. "You can't ship from Maryland to race anywhere. The world has quarantined Maryland. Maryland is cut off from the rest of the world. And what we're doing is following standard procedure in outbreaks like this.''
Early last week, officials thought they had the virus, which had resulted in the deaths of two horses and sickened eight others, under control. But Thursday, another horse, this one trained by Joe Delozier and stabled in Barn A on the opposite side of the track from the earlier incidents, developed signs of the virus. And though test results won't be back until later this week, there are enough signs – a wobbly backend for example – to make state vets fairly sure this horse also is infected.
At Pimlico, where 500 horse are now quarantined, trainer Richard Small said he isn't sure a quarantine will cure the problem.
"I don't think there is an easy answer," he said. "But I do have great confidence in our state vets."