Final Jockey Assignments Confirmed In 2017 Run For The Roses: Includes Three Louisiana Natives

by | 04.30.2017 | 3:05pm

Always Dreaming works under the Twin Spires with John Velazquez aboard.

The last of the Kentucky Derby riding assignments was confirmed on Sunday morning, and the current field of 20 is all booked up for Saturday’s Run for the Roses. The most recent addition is that of jockey Channing Hill aboard Fast and Accurate for trainer Mike Maker; Hill breezed the colt at Churchill Downs on Sunday morning, then announced the decision later in the morning on Twitter.

Tyler Gaffalione will be aboard the Todd Pletcher-trained Patch for Calumet Farm, it was also announced on Twitter Sunday morning. Pletcher’s other riders were announced over the past few weeks, with John Velazquez scheduled to team with Always Dreaming and Jose Ortiz to pilot Tapwrit.

Trainer Steve Asmussen confirmed his final Derby reinsmen on Saturday, naming Ricardo Santana to ride Untrapped and Corey Lanerie to ride Lookin at Lee. Florent Geroux had previously been named to ride Hence.

Late last week, trainer Dale Romans named Luis Saez as the replacement rider for the injured Robby Albarado aboard J Boys Echo.

 

Here is the full list of expected Kentucky Derby contenders and their riders, as of Sunday afternoon:

  • Always Dreaming (John Velazquez)
  • Battle of Midway (Flavien Prat)
  • Classic Empire (Julien Leparoux)
  • Fast and Accurate (Channing Hill)
  • Girvin (Mike Smith)
  • Gormley (Victor Espinoza)
  • Gunnevera (Javier Castellano)
  • Hence (Florent Geroux)
  • Irap (Mario Gutierrez)
  • Irish War Cry (Rajiv Maragh)
  • J Boys Echo (Luis Saez)
  • Lookin At Lee (Corey Lanerie)
  • McCraken (Brian Hernandez Jr.)
  • Patch (Tyler Gaffalione)
  • Practical Joke (Joel Rosario)
  • Sonneteer (Kent Desormeaux)
  • State of Honor (Jose Lezcano)
  • Tapwrit (Jose Ortiz)
  • Thunder Snow (Ire) (Christophe Soumillon)
  • Untrapped (Ricardo Santana Jr.).

Next up in order of preference: Royal Mo (Gary Stevens)

Florida Legislature Making ‘Substantial’ Push To Get Gambling Deal Completed In Current Session

by | 04.26.2017 | 2:10pm

Florida’s capitol building in Tallahassee

 

 

In a push to finally get a gambling bill approved during the current legislative session, the Florida House of Representatives made a few major offers during a session held Wednesday morning.

The SaintPetersBlog reports that the House has agreed to allow ‘decoupling’, which would permit pari-mutuel racetracks to stop offering live horse or dog racing, but keep their slots licenses if approved by local voters.

Only Calder among Florida’s Thoroughbred tracks would be allowed to decouple, according to current language in the negotiations, which also includes Thoroughbred “purse pools” created through contributions of other gambling entities.

The House bill does not appear to expand slots to eight counties with pari-mutuel wagering (including the flag-drop racing in Gretna and Hamilton county), and where local voters have already approved via referendum. It does permit a new South Florida slots parlor, provided it is at least five miles from an existing casino, and allows the Seminole tribe to add caps and roulette to its seven casinos throughout the state.

The Florida Senate’s gambling bill also permits decoupling but expands gambling dramatically by permitting slots in eight counties north of Dad and Broward counties.

Republican Senator and conference chair Bill Galvano called the House proposal “serious” and “substantial”.

Read more in the SaintPetersBlog

Louisiana Native Hernandez Opts To Stick With McCraken in the Kentucky Derby

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Jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. is the regular rider for a pair of 3-year-old colts with enough points to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate, and knew he would have to choose which to ride if both came through their final prep races without issue. According to drf.com, Hernandez ultimately made the decision to stick with the Ian Wilkes-trained McCraken, despite the son of Ghostzapper’s third-place finish in the G2 Blue Grass Stakes.

“It was a really, really tough decision because both trainers and owners have been extremely loyal to me throughout the year,” Hernandez told The Courier-Journal. “It was one of those decisions that took a whole lot of time and a whole lot of talking with my agent. And we went with McCraken.”

That left Girvin, winner of both the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby, without a rider for the first Saturday in May. Despite several light-hearted rumors that trainer Joe Sharp’s wife, the famed female jockey Rosie Napravnik, might come out of retirement to ride the son of Tale of Ekati, the mount will go to Hall of Famer Mike Smith (Napravnik intends to stay retired, according to her Twitter account).

 

Both McCraken and Girvin have only lost once in their respective careers, but McCraken is more likely to be one of the top choices for the Derby because of relatively slow finish times in Girvin’s Fair Grounds efforts. Take nothing away from Girvin: the lightly-raced colt has done nothing wrong and just keeps improving with each start.

That said, McCraken’s third-place effort in the Blue Grass may have some fans questioning their belief in the previously undefeated star. Based on Wilkes’ record, including derby winners Unbridled and Street Sense (during which time he served as assistant to trainer Carl Nafzger) and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, a sub-par effort prior to the big dance is nothing to be concerned about. Both Unbridled and Street Sense lost in the Blue Grass before winning the Derby, and Fort Larned finished third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup before winning the Classic.

Eight Years After Its Creation, Equine Injury Database Shows Improvement In U.S. Racing

by  | 04.03.2017

The Paulick Report

 

The Equine Injury Database recently released data from 2016, showing the lowest fatality rate per 1,000 starts for American racehorses since the Database began keeping records in 2009. The fatality rate for 2016 was 1.54 per 1,000 starts and includes horses that died within 72 hours after a race. That figure is based on data from the racetracks holding 96 percent of race dates in the country. In those seven years of data collection, the rate of fatalities on dirt has gone down 19 percent, and turf racing has seen 44 percent fewer fatalities.

The Jockey Club announced the launch of the Database in 2008, at a time when the sport was scrambling to respond to public concerns about equine safety following the highly-publicized breakdown of Eight Belles at the 2008 Kentucky Derby. The hope was that the Database would identify patterns related to racing fatalities which could be used to make new rules for the protection of horses. Statistical models work more effectively the more data they have to draw on, so reform advocates knew the Database would take time to gather enough information to provide them with suggestions. In the meantime, equine medical directors, Jockey Club representatives, veterinarians, and others gathered to share their observations and safety concerns in their own jurisdictions.

The Database was one of the products of the Jockey Club’s Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, which was first held in October 2006. The Summit, together with findings from the Database, stimulated discussion about the need for safety and welfare rule reforms, and a range of new regulations have been adopted in major racing states as a result. The graphic below shows a selection of reform initiatives and their adoptions by major racing states, alongside fatality rates for corresponding years.

The challenge for regulators and statisticians working on and with the Database is not just trying to understand what racing is doing wrong; it’s also about figuring out what the sport has done right in its quest to bring the fatality rate down. 

Statistical Summary from 2009 to 2016
Calendar Year
2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Rate 2.00 1.88 1.88 1.92 1.90 1.89 1.62 1.54

 

There are so many factors influencing a horse’s likelihood of fatal injury that no one can be sure which of the Association of Racing Commissioners International model rules or other reforms has made the most difference in the rate’s downward trend.

“If there were just one thing we could fix, if there were a switch we could flip, we would have flipped it a long time ago,” said Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and advisor on the Database. “It’s progress in inches, and I think the good news is that so far it has been inches in the right direction.”

The biggest milestones, according to Scollay? Whip regulation, which includes both rules requiring the “padded” or “popper” type whips designed to create noise more than impact, and restrictions on the number of times a jockey may hit a horse in succession. Those initiatives began around 2008 and continued as recently as last year, when California tightened its rules on whip use.

After learning toe grabs on front feet could predispose a horse to injury, several states began discussing shortening or banning the grabs altogether around 2009. Toe grabs on front feet have been made smaller in most major racing states. The Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, launched in 2009, has also provided important guidance to other labs on best practices for evaluating track surface.

Since 2012, states have begun changing the rules around claimed horses as well, reducing incentive for trainers to bring horses to the post with underlying issues. In California, claims are void by law if the horse dies during the race or is placed on the veterinarian’s list. Over the following two years, New York and Maryland added rules voiding claims in the event of death or a horse being vanned off.

EID timeline3

“Some people view the voided claim rule as some sort of warranty or protecting the claimant to the detriment of the trainer. It’s not about protecting people (other than the jockeys), it’s about protecting the horse,” said Scollay.

Scollay has studied injury statistics at high-level regional meets versus tracks with a more local trainer base. Perhaps counterintuitively, she found the smaller track with lots of claiming races had a lower fatality rate. She believes that’s because trainers there recognize the likelihood of bringing a claimer back to the barn after the race, and they don’t have a waiting list of horses to fill their stalls if they lost one to a major injury.

Scollay and Dr. Larry Bramlage, renowned equine orthopedic surgeon at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, both believe tougher corticosteroid regulation may have contributed to decreased fatalities. Although corticosteroids are not harmful in and of themselves, overuse can cloud a veterinarian’s ability to accurately assess a horse’s soundness. Methylprednisolone (also known as Depo-Medrol) was found to linger in the joints longer than other types of corticosteroids, which may be especially problematic.

depo medrolFor research purposes, Scollay routinely reviews Kentucky’s post-race drug testing data with “filters off,” meaning she sees all results from tests, including trace amounts of medications which aren’t considered violations. After new corticosteroid rules were enacted, she saw far fewer trace amounts of the drugs in horses’ systems. She’s also seen fewer commission-initiated scratches for unsoundness. The total number of scratches for the fiscal year 2013, prior to the current corticosteroid rules, was 146 at Kentucky’s tracks; in 2016, post-rule establishment, it was 101.

Outside of boosting state regulations, the number of racetracks using safety guidelines independent of state rules has increased, too. The NTRA launched its Safety and Integrity Alliance program in 2008 and had fifteen tracks accredited by 2009. There were 24 accredited by 2014.

Even with additional guidance from the database, Scollay recognizes it isn’t feasible for tracks to eliminate all risk factors for horses. Having a menu of suggested reforms does allow tracks to pick and choose areas they can control to reduce breakdowns.

Experts believe, for example, that running claiming horses for a significantly higher purse than their tag value (most commonly done at slots-fueled tracks) encourages risky behavior on the part of trainers. It may not be reasonable for a track to change its purse structure for fear of losing entries; instead, there could be other areas, like race distance, the track can try to adjust for minimal risk.

Hold your horses
It’s important to recognize it’s unlikely that any one rule change is responsible for the downturn in Thoroughbred deaths. Dr. Tim Parkin, veterinarian and epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow, said so far his team has been able to explain just 35 percent of the change in fatality rates with its statistical models. The remaining 65 percent of the rate reduction that hasn’t been quantified, and it may or may not be influenced by those regulatory changes.

Among the factors associated with 35 percent of the fatality rate decline: racing at two years old (horses are more likely to make their first starts at two, which is associated with reduced risk of injury), fewer races at six furlongs or under, fewer starts on dirt tracks not rated “fast,” and longer periods of time with the same trainer.

Parkin also cautions that it’s natural for rates like these to vary somewhat year to year, which is evident from 2011 to 2014, when the fatality rate fluctuated between 1.88 and 1.92 and back again. Statisticians use different formulas to determine whether a change between two numbers is “significant” or not likely due to natural variation. The drop from 2014 to 2015 was statistically significant; Parkin suspects the drop from 2015 to 2016 probably was not statistically significant.

“Given such a dramatic drop last year, I was anticipating that 2016 might see at least a leveling off or maybe a slight uptick,” he said. “Some of that drop might have been some natural variation. It wouldn’t have concerned me at all if there’d been a slight uptick in 2016 compared to the figures in 2015, but it’s further encouraging that there’s been a reduction. It gives me further confidence that what we’re seeing is a true reduction.”

Dr. Tim Parkin

Parkin said the Database continues to collect additional types of data from racetracks to help analysts interpret the numbers. Workout data is now being added into the Database, which Parkin hopes will help give him more clues about the relationship of rest periods to injury rates; it’s generally believed that too-long of a rest has a negative impact on bone remodeling, but that hasn’t been testable to this point. One major dark area for Database analysts remains the veterinary records of horses that break down, as information is still subject to state privacy laws. It’s also challenging to incorporate race-by-race changes in track surface due to weather, although the Database has recorded a track’s official condition at the time of a race and found (unsurprisingly) that fast or firm tracks had less likelihood of fatal breakdowns.

As the industry continues to learn more, Parkin believes the simple discussion of these risk factors in the media and between regulators is probably having an unmeasurable impact.

“It’s undoubtedly the case that simply talking about the issue gets people thinking about it,” he said. “I’ve seen lots of vets at their own tracks that have spoken to me and said, ‘We’re thinking about this and I keep my own spreadsheet of what’s going on.’ That’s probably something they wouldn’t have been doing 10 years ago. It’s kind of an attitudinal change, as well as other, more measurable changes.”

Parkin said The Jockey Club recently renewed funding for the upkeep and analysis of the Database. In the future, he’s hoping to create models that will test the impact of rule changes over the years since their institution.

Although there’s still a lot to learn and much work to be done, Scollay said she’s proud of how far the industry has come in working to improve equine safety.

“When you look at 2009 to 2016, I get chills,” she said. “What we needed to do, and what we talked about at the first Welfare and Safety Summit, was reducing our race fatalities by 50 percent. If we do that, the rest of the world has to talk to us like grown-ups, so we’ll be there with them. Then [the fatality rate] will become all of our problem, not just, ‘Those Americans who can’t do it right.’ It’ll be a communal problem we have to continue to work on, but the finger pointing stops.

“We’re halfway there. I think people should be heartened by that, but not get complacent. For people saying, ‘it’s a part of the game,’ it’s less a part of the game than you think. So I’m thrilled.”

It’s Not Just You: Antibiotic Resistance A Challenge For Equine Veterinarians

by  | 03.24.2017 | 12:04pm
SMZs

Long hailed as the greatest advance in medicine, antibiotics have become the go-to treatment for nearly every scratch, cough, or fever, whether or not they were caused by bacteria. Many doctors and veterinarians began indiscriminately prescribing antibiotics simply because their patients expected — even demanded — them. This overuse of antibiotics eventually created today’s crisis, in both human and animal medicine: antibiotic resistance.

Dr. Ken Marcella, founder of KLM Equine in Canton, Ga., has been beating the drum for years to alert horsemen to the danger of overuse of antibiotics. Last year, he treated his first case of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in a horse. In humans, the disease is widespread, with government agencies requiring hospitals to screen incoming patients for MRSA to curtail its spread.

In equine medicine, researchers and practitioners are doubly concerned about antibiotic resistance because there aren’t that many types of antibiotics in their arsenal. If a disease becomes resistant to the antibiotic of choice for treating it, horsemen — and the horse — are in trouble.

“First-choice drugs out in the field are going to be things like the sulfas — Trimethoprim [SMZ] or Uniprim are still the #1 deal,” Marcella said. “Because [sulfa] is generally broad-spectrum, and it is real simple for the client to administer, I think it’s probably overused. So we try to hold off on that.”

Gimme some SMZs, Doc

Horsemen have become accustomed to stopping at the veterinary clinic to pick up a supply of antibiotics, either for a special case or just to have on hand. Marcella said his clinic has had a long-standing policy not to dispense antibiotics unless he has examined the horse. Even then, he may choose to allow the horse’s immune system to do the work.

“Say a horse presents with just a runny nose,” Marcella said. “A lot of times, if the horse is eating and drinking and its temperature and physical exam are normal, we’ll hold off on any sort of treatment.”

He’ll follow up with the owners to assure the horse is recovering and if it isn’t, he’ll do lab work to determine which antibiotic is effective against that particular bacteria.

“It really doesn’t help in terms of resistance if you go ahead and treat with the wrong antibiotics for 10 days and then find out it’s not working,” he said.

Marcella may turn to stronger antibiotics — penicillin, gentamicin, enrofloxacin, or the tetracyclines — but only after blood work or cultures indicate their need.

What is the risk?

Risk management Is the key factor in deciding if and when to treat with antibiotics. Some horses may be healthy enough to fight the bacteria on their own, while others may be more at risk because of their age and overall health.

Another consideration is the disease itself.

“If I think it’s a disease that if I wait and I’m wrong, the horse is going to have more of a problem, then I’m more likely to go ahead and start antibiotics if I think they are needed,” Marcella said. “Or if I go ahead and do [blood work] and there’s a good chance of an infection somewhere, I’m going to put the horse on antibiotics, even if I can’t find the source to culture it.”

Foal Pneumonia

foalRhodococcal pneumonia in foals is a deadly disease that begins as small focal points of infection in the lungs that eventually become abscesses. This insidious pneumonia infects the foal in the first days of life but does not show symptoms until the advanced stage months later, a point where little can be done to save its life. In the early stages, foals continue to nurse normally, and they even may appear bright and healthy.

Researchers have developed a way to identify and monitor lesions in the foal’s lungs using ultrasound. The lesions are graded on a scale of zero to 10. A companion study found that smaller lesions (less than Grade 2) are able to resolve without medical intervention. But with such a serious disease, are farms willing to take that risk?

Three Chimneys Farm routinely ultrasounds its foals’ lungs for R. equi, but the size of a lesion is not the only factor farm manager Chris Baker said they use to decide if a foal should be treated.

“Clinical signs, ultrasound, and blood work — those three criteria are what we rely on in determining our choice whether to treat,” Baker said. “We’ll follow those along, but we only treat when we feel we have an active infection that needs to be treated, not an inflammatory [condition] or a low-grade infection process that the foal is dealing with on its own.”

Alternatives

For serious infections, ranging from wounds to respiratory disease, Marcella prefers to use Excede, an antibiotic with effects lasting four days.

“If you get a puncture wound or a respiratory issue, four days of Excede and then re-evaluation is probably a better way to go,” Marcella said.

Researchers also are looking to natural cures as a way to fight antibiotic resistance. Natural honey has shown promising results. A Swedish study found the beneficial lactic-acid bacteria in a bee’s stomach is effective in treating MRSA, non-healing wounds, and other antibiotic-resistant diseases. Commercial honey does not contain the lactic-acid bacteria; the source must be fresh raw honey.

Researchers in the United States also are looking into the antibiotic properties of the metal gallium maltolate to treat wounds and Rhodococcal pneumonia.

“The biggest thing from us out in the field is not to jump on antibiotics for no particular reason,” Marcella said.

Melancon ‘Taking One Day At A Time’ In Recovery From Stroke

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Retired jockey Larry Melancon, 61, is still recovering from the stroke that befell him earlier this month while vacationing in North Carolina. According to the Daily Racing Form, Melancon has returned to his hometown of Louisville and is undergoing twice daily physical therapy to deal with the partial paralysis the stroke left behind.

“He is a worker and tries very hard,” wrote Melancon’s wife, Denise, on Facebook over the weekend. “We are taking one day at a time.”

Melancon retired from riding in 2010, after a successful career that spanned close to 40 years. During his career, Melancon won over 2,800 races and his mounts accrued over $60 million in earnings. Since his retirement, Melancon remained active in racing, working for trainer Al Stall Jr. for a few years. He then briefly represented Calvin Borel as his jockey agent.

Read more in the Daily Racing Form, and donate to his medical expenses via this GoFundMe account.

Former Jockey Larry Melancon Suffers Stroke While Vacationing In North Carolina

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Larry Melancon piloted Off Duty to victory in the G3 Phoenix Stakes in 2007
Larry Melancon piloted Off Duty to victory in the G3 Phoenix Stakes in 2007

Former jockey Larry Melancon remains hospitalized in North Carolina after suffering a stroke on March 3 while vacationing with his wife.

The Daily Racing Form reports that Melancon, 61, was airlifted to Mission Neurology Hospital in Asheville on Friday. He had begun showing symptoms of a stroke that morning at the hotel where he was staying with his wife, Denise. Doctors put Melancon in an induced coma after he underwent a six-hour surgery on Saturday.

Melancon retired from riding in 2010, after a successful career that spanned close to 40 years. During his career, Melancon won over 2,800 races and his mounts accrued over $60 million in earnings. Since his retirement, Melancon remained active in racing, working for trainer Al Stall Jr. for a few years. He then briefly represented Calvin Borel as his jockey agent.

Go Fund Me page has been set up to help with medical expenses, and to help transport Melancon back to Louisville.

Read more in the Daily Racing Form, and click here to donate

Concerns Over Nocardioform Placentitis For Kentucky Foal Crop On The Rise

by  | 02.01.2017 | 7:32am 

Pregnant_Mare

A rise in nocardioform placentitis cases in Central Kentucky’s 2011 foal crop caused concern among equine caretakers, veterinarians and the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (UKVDL). A placental infection that can cause late-term abortion or small, underdeveloped foals, the disease could take a toll on the Thoroughbred breeding industry.

The UKVDL reported via The Horse that in 2012, the number of confirmed cases dropped to a more-typical number, but that the 2016 crop had a small rise in cases in February before numbers dropped quickly later that year.

Though 2017 has just begun, the UKVDL has seen an increase in confirmed nocardioform placentitis cases, beginning with 10 abortions in December 2016 (compared to zero abortions in December 2015). Additionally, there were eight confirmed cases in the first two weeks of January 2017, with additional cases pending.

First identified in Central Kentucky in the mid-1980s, the development of nocardioform placentitis is not well understood. It can cause stillbirths, prematurity, late-gestation abortions, live but non-viable foals, and foals that are small and weak, but live. The lesions of nocardioform placentitis are distinctive and are gram-positive branching bacilli; they are found only on the placenta and do not reach the fetus.

It is not clearly understood how nocardioform placentitis is transmitted as the infection does not follow the transmission path of either ascending bacterial placentitis or septicemic bacterial placentitis. The cases tend to come in waves with some years having more cases than other. Scientists are investigating if environmental factors contribute to the disease. So far, nocardioform placentitis seems to occur after hot, dry weather.

Read more at The Horse.

New Protocols, More Tests: Fair Grounds EHV-1 Outbreak ‘At Least A 45-Day Process’

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As the first group of barns at the Fair Grounds Race Course near the end of their state-mandated equine herpesvirus quarantines, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture has been working to define the procedures which will allow those barns to be released from quarantine. Following a meeting earlier in the week between horsemen, USDA representatives, veterinarians, and outside advisors, those protocols have nearly been finalized.

According to assistant state veterinarian Dr. Dianne Stacey, any barn that has held a horse which tested positive for EHV-1, whether it be the wild strain or the neurogenic strain, is automatically quarantined for a period of 14 days. The horse which demonstrated the positive test is placed in isolated quarantine for 21 days; those with the wild strain are kept separate from those with the neurogenic strain.

In order to get out of quarantine, all the horses in the affected barn have to demonstrate two negative EHV-1 tests, spaced at least 72 hours apart, as well as undergo final checks by state veterinarians.

As of Thursday evening, there were a total of 10 horses on the Fair Grounds premises that had tested positive for EHV-1 (two for the neurogenic strain, the others for the wild strain), and six barns were under quarantine (14, 36, 47, 4, 30, and the receiving barn). Also on Thursday evening, the Department of Agriculture updated the Fair Grounds’ voluntary quarantine of the entire backside to a mandatory one, meaning that still no horses are allowed to enter or exit the facility.

The state began the first round of tests on Thursday afternoon, beginning with the first three barns to have entered quarantine. Should the approximately 50 horses stabled in each of those barns all test negative for EHV-1, they would have to again test negative in 72 hours in order to be released from quarantine. If any of the horses test positive for either strain of EHV-1, the 14-day quarantine begins again.

“The rationale for testing has been to get the known positives out of the barn,” said Stacey. “We were under some logistical constraints with the holidays because of all the labs being shut down, which was why we didn’t initially test. We’ve got a better handle now.

“The horses in the quarantined barns have been temped twice a day, every day, and we’ve removed everything that’s even shown a hint of a fever (above 101.5 degrees). So in a perfect world, they’d all come back negative.”

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the EHV-1 virus and its ability to lie dormant in a horse’s system, it appears unlikely that all 50 horses in each barn will be negative. One study found that four percent of a random sampling of 451 horses were positive for the EHV-1 virus (this study did not indicate whether “positive” meant latency or if the horse was actively shedding the virus).

Another study which looked at the necropsies of 132 broodmares indicated that 54 percent had EHV-1 in their lymph nodes (latent). Of those, 18 percent had the neurogenic strain. Of that 18 percent, close to 90 percent had the wild type as well. It adds confusion because horses can have both strains lying latently in their lymph nodes.

Dr. Nathan Slovis, director of the McGee Medical Center at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, was hired as a consultant on the Fair Grounds outbreak and aided in developing the new protocols. He argues that even though a horse shows no symptoms, the virus’ ability to lie latent may allow the horse to pass it on to its peers. Especially in a racetrack environment, in which horses are constantly in close proximity to one another, the Department of Agriculture has to do its job in order to prevent the virus from spreading.

“When it comes to regulatory agencies, herpes is herpes; it doesn’t matter if it’s wild-type or neurogenic type,” Slovis said. “Everybody keeps thinking ‘oh, wild type, all horses have it, big deal, who cares.’ And the majority of the time, wild type is not a big deal. It may cause abortions and you get some respiratory problems, but it can also cause the neurologic signs.”

The difference between EHV-1 neurogenic and EHV-1 “wild” type viruses is incredibly minute and requires a close look at each’s genetic structure. The wild EHV-1 virus is considered the “normal” version of the virus, without any mutation. In the neurogenic form, a single element of the DNA is mutated; if nucleotide 2254 within the Open Reading Frame-30 gene has a guanine element instead of an adenine, the virus is neuropathic.

According to a study of 48 equine herpesvirus outbreaks over a 35-year period, 83 percent of the symptomatically neurological cases had the mutation, making the virus the neurogenic type. That means that 17 percent of the cases with neurological symptoms had the wild-type strain of the virus.

“It just goes to show you, the regulatory agencies have to take both seriously,” said Slovis. “Even though the majority of the time, the wild-type is going to be more of a nuisance factor, you can’t take that risk at a big place like the Fair Grounds.”

A recent outbreak at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, said Slovis, was an example of a group of horses with the wild type EHV-1 virus, but eight of the 15 positives at that facility demonstrated neurological symptoms, and one was euthanized. That outbreak lasted just over 60 days.

Local horsemen have expressed serious concerns about the protocols required to get out of quarantine. Many trainers in the affected barns operate small or mid-sized strings of horses, and being unable to race for that long would place them in jeopardy of going out of business. Already, the price of each herpes test has fallen on the horses’ owners, and, at $53 apiece, that adds up.

Preliminary results from Thursday’s testing at Barn 14, the origin of the EHV-1 outbreak, indicate 21 more positives for the wild strain of the virus.

“It’s not going to fix itself in 14 days,” Slovis said. “I’m guessing it’s going to be at least a 45-day process, but I don’t expect any catastrophic events.

“Right now in New Orleans, none of those wild-type positive horses are showing neurologic symptoms. Which means they’re just getting an upper respiratory infection, so they get isolated so that more horses don’t get sick. These horses aren’t going to die, they just don’t want sick horses out on the premises so that they can continue racing normally.”

Along with the state-mandated biosecurity protocols implemented in the quarantined barns, the racetrack has begun to work on additional precautions to improve safety for the rest of the barns on the backside. Dr. Stacey said, among other protocols, the track is considering testing the pony horses for EHV-1.

“We had a consultant come in, and we had a risk analysis and a big discussion,” Stacey said. “It was suggested highly that they be tested because these ponies are under contract with different trainers, but then they go back to a common barn. We did do enhanced biosecurity with footbaths, etc., and we’ve been temping those ponies twice a day, but we did see that they were a little bit higher risk than some of the other quarantined barns. I believe that plans are underway to test them.”

Other measures already in place include disinfecting the starting gates between each race, having grooms bring their own buckets for their horses to the test barn, and not having the horse identifier touch the horses’ lips in the paddock (the grooms are now asked to lift the lip in order to show the tattoo).

In the future, Dr. Stacey hopes the Fair Grounds will work with her department in order to open up another barn on the backside to allow horses to ship in for races, which would help to alleviate the small field sizes that have become prevalent since the outbreak began.

“The bottom line is that they’re going to get over this,” Slovis summed up. “You may see a little spike before things calm down, but they’ve got procedures in place, are implementing additional precautions, and they’ll get over this. It’s just a matter of time.”

Fair Grounds EHV-1: 40 Horses Now Positive, Seventh Barn Enters Quarantine

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The Equine Disease Communications Center reports that there are now a total of 40 horses on the Fair Grounds Race Course backside to have tested positive for EHV-1, and that the total number of barns quarantined was increased from six to seven (14, 36, 47, 4, 30, 45, and the receiving barn).

A horse in Barn 45, trained by Andrew McKeever, returned a positive test for the wild type strain, placing Barn 45 under a mandated 14-day quarantine. Also, on Jan. 12, a horse in Barn 20 spiked a temperature of 104 and test results on blood and nasal samples were reported negative for EHV-1; retesting protocols will be followed.

The significant spike in positive tests can be linked to the protocols required for barns nearing the end of their state-mandated 14-day quarantines. Each horse in those barns must test negative for EHV-1 in both blood and nasal samples twice, with the two tests spaced at least 72 hours apart. For more details on those protocols, click here.

The barns tested for future quarantine release were Barn 14, Barn 36, and the Receiving Barn. The results brought back wild-type EHV-1 positives for the following numbers from each barn: Nine (9) horses in Barn 36, nineteen (19) horses in Barn 14 and two (2) horses in the Receiving Barn. It is not yet clear where these latest positives will be quarantined, but all were reported to be asymptomatic at the time of the positive test result, and none had spiked a fever in the previous two weeks.

So far, there are still only two reported positives for the EHV-1 neuropathogenic strain; the other 38 positives are the wild type of the virus.

At this time, Fair Grounds officials are working with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture to secure additional space off property to isolate the horses who have tested positive and are working with the LSRC to further strengthen quarantine protocols and biosecurity measures.

Additionally, the EDCC reported that the Louisiana Department of Agriculture has traced a total of 65 horses that may have been exposed to EHV-1 in the Receiving Barn prior to Jan. 2, and that all of those horses had been isolated and were in the testing process.

The Fair Grounds is under a state-restricted quarantine, and no horses are allowed on or off the premises.

For further updates from Equine Disease Communications Center click here