Horsemen at Hawthorne Race Course are trying to plan winter racing schedules but a recently extended quarantine because of an equine herpes outbreak is making that difficult.
A horse in Barn 1 was euthanized Nov. 26 and a necropsy revealed the horse had EHV-1. It is the fourth horse to die of the disease during the Hawthorne fall meet, which started Oct. 5 and is scheduled to continue through Dec. 30.
Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association President Michael Campbell said the situation has been frustrating as typically trainers would be making plans to ship in a few weeks to winter tracks like Fair Grounds, Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park, and Tampa Bay Downs.
“The trainers are universally disappointed,” Campbell said. “There’s a lot of concern and even panic about this. It makes sense. Their economic livelihood is challenged. And it goes without saying that we all care for our horses. We have a very good core group of horsemen here. They’ve been around, they love their animals, and they’re concerned.”
Trainer Larry Rivelli said that besides delaying travel, the quarantine has prevented him and other trainers from selling horses no longer competitive in Illinois to out-of-state connections, who do not wish to wait out the quartantine. While Rivelli said the outbreak and quarantine has cost him some money, he said these situations are part of being a trainer.
"I’ve learned over the years to put some money away during the good times. Horsemen need a cushion because in racing stuff is going to come up," Rivelli said. "This has been tough but it’s not the end of the world. You have to adjust."
On the other end of things, Rivelli said the quarantine prevented several trainers from shipping horses to Gulfstream Park for the Claiming Crown races on Dec. 1.
The Nov. 26 positive test extends the Hawthorne quarantine until at least Dec. 24. The quarantine is required to last for 28 days after an EHV-1 positive horse shows neurologic symptoms. Tracks like Tampa Bay Downs, which currently is not accepting any horses from Hawthorne, require horses with a veterinary inspection certificate showing they have not shipped from or been stabled on a premise which has had EHV-1 diagnosed during the previous 30 days.
"We are sympathetic to the plight of Hawthorne horsemen and their animals impacted by the equine herpes virus," said Tampa Bay Downs general manager Peter Berube. "However, for the time being, our priorities include the welfare of our locally based population and taking the necessary precautions to prevent the virus from entering our stable area."
Hawthorne assistant general manager Jim Miller said state veterinarians told horsemen in Barn 1 that no other horses have displayed any symptoms. But as a precaution the horsemen within that barn have been asked to train during later training hours for a period of seven days while the barn can be monitored.
Rivelli said horsemen have received good advice from veterinarians and through thorough care—Rivelli takes his horses’ temperatures two or three times a day—the virus’s severe symptoms can be prevented.
A few horses have shipped from Hawthorne but they are required to be moved to another quarantine facility. On Nov. 23, trainer Gary Scherer received approval to ship horses to a facility in Kentucky. Permission for such moves must be granted by the Illinois Department of Agriculture as well as from the destination state’s department of agriculture.
Several monitored horses at Hawthorne have tested negative for EHV-1 and have returned to the general population.
"Good news is, cases have become very sporadic and more horses are returning to the general population. Bad news is, sporadic cases still exist and are treated on a case-by-case basis," Miller said in a Nov. 28 release. "I want to thank the horsemen for their support during this meet as we have nearly 1,900 healthy horses that are able to race. We understand the need for those healthy horses to train and race. Many people are employed by the racing industry and many owners with healthy horses would like the ability to earn purse money."
Campbell said that with 1,900 horses in close quarters on the Hawthorne backstretch, efforts by the department of agriculture, track officials, state and association veterinarians, and horsemen have helped limit the number of horses who develop life-threatening symptoms from the virus.
“We’re hoping this too shall pass and we’ll be able to move forward,” Campbell said. “I’m counting on the spirit of my horsemen to be able to weather their way through this storm. And I’m looking forward to a great spring meet at Hawthorne.”