For more than a week, Maryland Jockey Club chief operating officer Lou Raffetto said he could "see the light at the end of the tunnel" regarding the ongoing battle with equine herpesvirus.
There was some light Feb. 3, when Laurel Park began accepting horses from previously quarantined Pimlico Race Course, and Feb. 5, when a "hold order" was lifted at the Bowie Training Center.
The MJC accepted the entries of 14 horses from 11 Pimlico trainers for the Feb 8 racing card at Laurel. And Bowie-based trainer Chris Grove, after learning one of his horses wasn't infected with the virus, also began entering horses at Laurel.
Pimlico's barn area, where about 500 horses are stabled, has been under quarantine since Jan. 21.
"We've not had a case of the virus at Pimlico since Jan. 19," Raffetto said.
The news brightened a week in which test results returned Jan. 31 confirmed Hey Ralphy, a Rodney Jenkins-trained, Laurel-based filly that was euthanized Jan. 27, had the virus. It was the first case at Laurel since the Pimlico outbreak began.
"If we can get everyone healthy, with negative tests at Pimlico, I think out-of-state tracks will begin thinking about lifting their restrictions," MJC racing secretary Georganne Hale said. "They're all waiting to see what we do, and clearing Pimlico would be a big start."
Pimlico trainers voiced mixed feelings about returning to Laurel after the confirmation of the virus there. Trainer Ann Merryman, who had a horse entered for Feb. 8, said: "I think it's fine we're returning to the racetrack. Moving forward, we've all learned a lot from this situation. I think this virus is here, and we'll just have to learn to live with it and work together as an industry."
But others voiced concern, including T.J. Albert, who had two horses entered for Feb. 8.
"I hope I'm wrong, but I think it is wishful thinking to think there won't be another case at Laurel or Bowie," Albert said. "But my horses have got to get out and do something. They say keep the stress off them, but I think they're getting stressed just being in the barns."
At Pimlico, hold orders on Barns 8 and 6 have been extended 10 days to allow time for clearance testing. Barn A is scheduled to come out from its 21-day hold Feb. 9, but horses in that barn must first test clean.
A 21-day hold also remains on a farm in Kent County, where eight horses have been sick from the virus and one had to be euthanized.