ANNAPOLIS – Maryland officials lifted the last quarantine on a barn at Pimlico Race Course Friday after almost a month without the appearance of a new case of equine herpes at the track.
However, the recent confirmation of equine herpes at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton indicates that the problem is not yet over.
“What we may have is the tail-end storm of a hurricane: high wind but no serious damage,” said Dr. Guy Hohenhaus, state veterinarian for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
The lifting of the hold order, as state officials call it, is the latest in a series of relaxed quarantines at Pimlico.
Two Pimlico barns were released from their hold orders February 6, and a third was released on February 9. The self-imposed quarantine that prevented Pimlico horses from racing at other tracks was lifted on February 8.
But at Fair Hill, test results Thursday showed 10 out of 37 horses stabled in one barn had equine herpes, though none have exhibited the neurological symptoms that can cause paralysis.
Hoehnhaus said he remains optimistic about the Fair Hill cases, calling the outbreak a “non-situation.”
The more benign varieties of equine herpes, which has many different variations, are common in horse populations, so there are often positive tests that do not necessarily indicate the presence of the neurological form of the virus – the most dangerous.
“It certainly causes concern,” Hoenhaus said of the positive tests at Fair Hill, “but I’d take ten of them versus one neurological case.”
Officials at Fair Hill Training Center, which currently stables around 360 horses, have imposed a quarantine on one barn and are currently managing the situation without state action.
“So far we are in close contact with the Department of Agriculture,” said Sally Goswell, manager of Fair Hill. “It’s our understanding that as long as the horses don’t develop any neurological symptoms, we will be handling it ourselves.”
Groswell speculated that the virus may have been transmitted to her facility from Laurel Park, noting that a horse in the barn in question had recently raced at Laurel Park, but Hoenhaus said there was not yet enough information to make such a determination.
“The key word there is speculated,” Hoenhaus said. “These are all theories at this point.”
He said the horses come in contact with each other frequently, so it is very difficult to determine which particular encounters resulted in transmission of the virus.
Hoenhaus was also quick to rebuff worries about equine herpes transmission among horses racing at Laurel, saying the racetrack was “absolutely” safe.
“If it wasn’t, we would have done something about it a long time ago,” he said.
Two horses were confirmed to have equine herpes at Laurel Park, but no others have tested positive since January 26. If there are no more positive tests, the one quarantined Laurel Park barn could have its hold order lifted by the end of next week.
Though no hold orders remain at Pimlico, six horses continue to test positive for the virus. They are being isolated from the rest of the track’s horses in a detention barn.
In total, 22 Maryland horses have tested positive for the virus. Six have died as a result of equine herpes.
Sunday racing at Laurel, which had been canceled the previous three weeks, in part because of horse shortages stemming from Pimlico’s quarantine, will resume February 19.
Two featured races of Laurel’s winter season that were cancelled due to a lack of horses have been tentatively rescheduled. The $300,000 Barbara Fritchie Breeder’s Cup Handicap will run on March 4 and the $300,000 General George Breeder’s Cup Handicap will run on March 18.
John P. McDaniel, chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, said the equine herpes outbreak was a “rough period for Maryland racing,” but the industry was recovering. McDaniel summed up his feelings about the lift of Pimlico’s last hold order in two words: “We’re thrilled.”