Impact of EHV-1 on Florida Tracks Could be Minimal

Barring an always-possible turn of events, the recent outbreak of equine herpesvirus (EHV-1) in Florida might have a minimal impact on the state's racetracks.

State officials were considering lifting the quarantine on horses at Payson Park after a Dec. 27 tour of the training facility located near Indiantown, where about 515 Thoroughbreds have assembled for the winter months.

The Florida Department of Agriculture is expected to shortly release the findings of the visit headed by its affiliate veterinarian, Dr. Martin Short, and could modify the all-inclusive quarantine enacted at Payson after a horse believed to be infected with EHV-1 died Dec. 22.

"I spoke with Dr. Short this morning before he went to Payson, and he indicated that it might be reasonable to lift part of the quarantine," said Dr. Mary Scollay, track veterinarian for Gulfstream Park and Calder Racecourse.

Calder, which is heading into its final weekend of racing before Gulfstream opens Jan. 3, accepted entries from Payson Park-based horses for its Dec. 30 Grand Slam III program, pending the state's decision to modify the quarantine.

"We won't know for sure until they make the decision, but based on some of the information we received, we decided to go ahead and accept the entries," said Calder racing secretary Mike Antifantis.

Scollay agreed with the move to accept entries from Payson Park horses.

"The worst case scenario is that the horses get scratched," she said.

Officials with both Calder and Tampa Bay Downs, which opened its winter meet Dec. 9, said they have lost no more than a dozen or so potential entrants due to the outbreak.

"It's only impacted us in a small way," said Margo Flynn, Tampa Bay Downs vice president of marketing and publicity.

Flynn said the Oldsmar track is not accepting horses to stable until at least Jan. 1, when Tampa officials will re-evaluate restrictions put into place earlier in December. Calder relaxed its ban Dec. 26.

Horses located at two barns at Calder have been restricted to training after regular training hours. Scollay said those restrictions could be lifted after the 40 horses housed in the barns are tested Dec. 29.

Movement bans such as those put in place at Calder and Tampa were not enacted at Gulfstream, which has seen steady additions to its barn area in recent weeks. Scollay said that a seven-day ban might have been "overkill."

"It is a difficult time with the barns filling up," said Scollay, who met with Gulfstream horsemen late last week. "I didn't make a policy or a mandate. The horsemen realize they have a responsibility in this. The van companies have a responsibility, the people sending the horses have a responsibility . . . at any level, if people fail to meet obligations, the whole thing falls apart."

Gulfstream racing secretary Dave Bailey said he is not worried about having enough horses to fill races at the Hallandale Beach facility. He noted that at its peak, Gulfstream stables hold 1,000 horses, with another potential 1,200 stabled at the Palm Meadows Training Facility in Boynton Beach.

"Depending on what the state does, we should be in pretty good shape," he said.

Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. also modified movement requirements at its stabling area. Horsemen are only allowed to ship in for timed workouts at the OBS track on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and van-to-van transfers are prohibited.

OBS general manager Tom Ventura said the policies were simply put into place to get in line with the state's racetracks.

"There was no reason to panic, because we don't have a lot of activity right now, but we make sure that the consignors are on notice," he said. It will be several weeks before horses begin shipping in to prepare for the company's Feb. 13 select 2-year-olds in training sale.

Like Florida's racetracks, OBS requires a veterinarian inspection report that verifies shipping horses have been vaccinated for the herpesvirus, and haven't come from either quarantined locations or those suspected of having the virus present.

A total of five horses suspected of carrying the virus have died since the outbreak surfaced in mid-December, with the state earlier ordering quarantines at Payson and eight  Palm Beach County locations, along with a farm located near Ocala where a suspected infected horse shipped in.