Laurel Handicaps Off Due to Virus Restrictions

The 2006 runnings of the Barbara Fritchie Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) and the General George Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II), the marquee races of the Laurel Park winter meeting, have been canceled because of the equine herpesvirus outbreak, officials of the Maryland Jockey Club announced Feb. 20.

Restrictions on movement of horses into Maryland due to the virus forced the decision, officials said. During the holiday weekend, racing secretary Georganne Hale learned New York would not be lifting its quarantine until sometime in March.

"In one sense, it is a tough decision," said Lou Raffetto, Maryland Jockey Club president and chief operating officer. "No one wants to cancel two of its premier races but, in light of the situation as it now exists and New York's decision to extend the quarantine period, we have no choice but to take a one-year hiatus. To preserve the integrity, quality, and grading of the race(s), we thought this was the best move to make."

Originally carded for President's Day weekend, both $300,000 races were postponed earlier this month. The Fritchie, a seven- furlong test for fillies and mares scheduled for Feb. 18, had been moved to March 4. The General George, also a seven-furlong race on the main track scheduled to run Feb. 20, had been shifted to March 18. Stakes coordinator Wendy Pensivy had received seventeen nominations for the Fritchie, twelve outside of Maryland. Twelve horses had already nominated to the General George, ten of whom are based in other states.

Three horses from three different Pimlico barns were euthanized in January after contracting equine herpesvirus (EHV-1). This month, the Maryland Department Of Agriculture lifted the hold orders on all three barns after horses tested negative for the virus. The last clinical case at Pimlico happened Jan. 19, though six horses remain in the detention barn because they haven't tested negative.

One barn at Laurel Park remains under a hold order until Feb. 24 after a filly was euthanized Jan. 26. Blood samples and nasal swabs on the horses stabled in Barn 9 will be taken Wednesday to determine if the virus is still present.

EHV-1 has also caused two horses to be euthanized at an Eastern Shore farm and is present in 10 horses at the Fair Hill Training Center in Cecil County near the Delaware state line, though none have exhibited any neurologic signs.

"The fact is the situation at Fair Hill has thrown everything into turmoil as it relates to restrictions from other states," said Raffetto. "We looked into the possibility of running them later in the meet, but it didn't make any sense as there are graded stakes at Aqueduct, Santa Anita, and Keeneland with similar conditions for both races. We felt like everything was working against us, and the proper thing to do was cancel the Barbara Fritchie and General George for the season."