While a barn in Fair Grounds’ stable area remains under a Louisiana State Racing Commission quarantine, horses will again be allowed to ship in and race at the track beginning with the Dec. 31 card.
Commissioners and LSRC staff, Fair Grounds officials, and members of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry staff met late Dec. 29 in Baton Rouge, where it was agreed shippers would again be allowed to race. Dec. 30 is Fair Grounds’ only dark day this week.
"As we continue to monitor the situation, we are pleased that all parties were able to come to this agreement," said Fair Grounds vice president and general manager of racing Eric Halstrom, "We look forward to welcoming back ship-ins."
Ship-in horses raced at Fair Grounds on Dec. 26 and 27, but as an added precaution, they were prohibited from shipping to the track for races on Dec. 28 and 29. Ship-ins must arrive and depart from the track’s receiving barn.
The LDAF recommended, and all parties agreed to follow, its protocol for any horses that ship in to race. The requirements include a normal temperature reading upon arrival and records of a certified veterinary inspection within the last 48 hours and a herpes vaccination from not less than 14 and not more than 90 days ago.
The quarantine and bio-security measures have been in place for Barns 4A and 4B at Fair Grounds since Friday after test results confirmed that a Thoroughbred trained by Dallas Stewart was infected with equine herpes virus ("EHV-1").
Five horses tested Dec. 27 – which includes all horses that have been housed in the last 14 days in Barns 4A and 4B, the local base for Stewart and trainer Neil Howard – showed "positive" for equine herpes virus, according to results received by the LDAF and LSRC earlier Monday.
Experts in EHV-1 have indicated, however, that as many as 5% of horses will carry the virus in their system. No other horses in either Stewart’s or Howard’s barn have shown any symptoms of EHV-1, which most commonly include fever and an upper respiratory infection and can also include lethargy, loss of appetite, a nasal discharge, and a cough. In severe cases, horses can suffer a loss of coordination and an inability to stand and the illness can be fatal.
All horses had two tests performed, one using a nasal swab and the other using a buffy coat, or blood sample.
The recommended quarantine period for equine herpes virus is generally up to 21 days after potential exposure to the virus. The five horses that tested "positive" will be quarantined further, begin a new 21-day clock and will be re-tested Jan. 5.
The infected horse displayed symptoms of equine herpes on Dec. 23. That horse was transported immediately from Fair Grounds and remains under observation at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., where the diagnosis was confirmed the following day.
Symptoms of equine herpes virus most commonly include fever and an upper respiratory infection. The symptoms can also include lethargy, loss of appetite, a nasal discharge and a cough. In severe cases, horses can suffer a loss of coordination and an inability to stand and the illness can be fatal.
Because the disease is a virus, it can be spread through the air when a horse coughs – although studies on the virus indicate that it is very short-lived and is susceptible to disinfectants. The maximum extent of the airborne transmission of the virus is thought to 35 feet. Horses may also contract the disease if they come in contact with the clothing of a person who has worked with an infected horse, the tack and equipment worn by an infected horse, or a shared food and water source. The disease poses no danger to humans.
The incubation period for equine herpes virus ranges from two to 10 days. Under the quarantine order, horses may not be moved in or out of those barns until the LDAF clears them to do so.
To accommodate the quarantined horses, training hours were changed Saturday. Regular training hours will be 30 minutes earlier, from 5:30-9:30 a.m., with a renovation break from 7:30-8 a.m. Horses from Stewart and Howard’s stables will be allowed to train from 9:30-10:30 a.m.
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the nation’s third-oldest Thoroughbred racing facility, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN); it also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and nine off-track betting parlors throughout southeast Louisiana. Fair Grounds’ 137th Thoroughbred season will run from Nov. 14, 2008, through March 29, 2009, and its inaugural Quarter Horse meet was conducted from Aug. 20-24, 2008. Information about Fair Grounds can be found on the Internet at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.