By T. D. Thornton
Four barns at Laurel Park were placed under quarantine and shipping out was barred for horses stabled at Maryland's two Thoroughbred tracks Mar. 9 after a symptomatic horse at Laurel tested positive for equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1) and was removed to a veterinary facility.
On a national scale, active cases of the highly contagious respiratory disease are being monitored in several states right now, including in Florida at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala.
On Mar. 7, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture state veterinarian's office issued written guidance related to this recent spate of EHV-1.
“In the past seven days we have learned of multiple occurrences of EHV-1 impacting equine events throughout the world,” Rusty Ford, the equine operations consultant for the Kentucky state's veterinarian, said in that statement.
“Additionally, as we are coming to the time of year that we historically see an increase in movement of equine exhibition and racing stock into Kentucky, I want to remind all associated parties that mitigating risk of disease introduction is a shared responsibility that requires commitment from each individual exhibitor, trainer, event managers, facility operators, veterinarians, and animal health officials,” Ford said.
That statement urged stabling facilities in Kentucky to review biosecurity protocols and elevate their responses to minimize direct contact between horses via shared water, feed supplies and equipment.
Speaking during a Tuesday informational videoconference, Steve Koch, the senior vice president of racing for The Stronach Group, whose tracks include Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course in Maryland, detailed the plan of action at both venues.
Horses will be allowed to ship into both Laurel and Pimlico and can travel between those two tracks to train and race, but can't exit for another jurisdiction until the quarantine has lifted, Koch said.
“Chances are–and this is me speculating, and maybe I shouldn't,” Koch said, “but chances are, you're going to run out of places to go anyhow, because no one on the East Coast racing is going to want our horses shipping into their facilities.”
Koch said the EHV-1 protocols were initiated “on Saturday, [when] there was a horse showing some symptoms [at Laurel]. By Sunday, this horse [had] been tested for herpesvirus…. That horse had contact in both barns 10 and 4…. Upon further analysis, it was quickly evident that both barns 11 and 1 also has some fairly close contact with these horses and the respective shed rows. So currently barns 1, 4, 10 and 11 are on a lockdown situation.”
Koch said Laurel training was “set aside” on Tuesday, but starting Wednesday, “we will look for a way to give [horses in the locked-down barns] some training hours.”
Koch added that “It's more complicated than just extending training hours. The track crew has to know; there's complications with when we get to the race days on Friday how that will work. But we are cooking up a plan, and you'll hear that from day to day as we get in together.
Horses in Laurel's quarantined barns, however, will not be allowed to race.
“The quarantine we're currently looking at, assuming there's no further symptoms; no further positive horses, it's a 14-day quarantine,” Koch summed up. “And then we can lift the veil. The trick is we have to be super-diligent throughout those 14 days…and all horses need to be asymptomatic throughout that period.”
The highly contagious EHV-1 can spread during any time of the year, but winter typically brings a spike in cases nationwide.
The winters in the years 2016-18 saw a sharp increase in reported EHV-1 cases. But during those outbreaks several agricultural regulators told TDN it was unclear if those statistics represented actual spikes in EHV-1 cases or if veterinarians and testing methods are just getting better at detecting and reporting them.