It started on October 14, according to Dr. Dawn Folker, on-call veterinarian for Illinois's upstate race tracks, in Barn A of the Hawthorne Race Course backstretch. It continued on for a month, with quarantines set in place in Barn A and the hope that it would subside. Sadly it has led to the deaths of three race horses.
A strain of Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1) has taken hold of the Hawthorne Race Course Backstretch, and a teleconference about the most recent cases (discovered last Friday) was held this afternoon at Hawthorne. In attendance were management of Hawthorne Race Course (President Tim Carey, Assistant General Manager Jim Miller), Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemens' Association (ITHA) President Mike Campbell, and practicing veterinarians (including Dr. Folker and state veterinarian Dr. Ernst) from the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Following is a recap of the November 19 teleconference.
The Q-and-A teleconference started with a recounting of statistics and a timeline of the situation. According to Hawthorne Asst. GM Miller: Of the approximately 1900 racehorses (not including the eighty-seven stable ponies and outrider horses, which all tested negative) on the Hawthorne backstretch, about ten percent of the population has been tested for EHV. Seventy-nine have tested positive and three have died from its complications. Those that have tested positive and placed into quarantine (and unable to leave their stall to work, and race). In a further statement to F. Angst of Blood-Horse, Miller mentioned that if a group of about sixty horses tests negative for a second time upon a first negative test about twenty-one days ago, they may be reintegrated into the backstretch population and race again.
Horses can ship in to race at Hawthorne with a clean bill of health, according to Miller. But with cold/snowy winter weather near and horses looking to ship to warmer climates (such as New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and Fort Lauderdale), shipping of horses out of Hawthorne has been severely halted and greatly inconvenienced. Horses are allowed to check out but not leave the backstretch (for example, a visit an off-site clinic is permissible).
The Illinois Department of Agriculture also ruled out moving the quarantined horses to cross-town Arlington Park. According to Miller, EHV is a stress-induced disease and the commute could induce stress. In addition to restrictions on horses going out, state vets mentioned that if horses left quarantine without permission, legal action in accordance with state law and involving the Illinois State Police may be taken.
The teleconference moved to a discussion with hygiene, as the disease can be spread from human-to-horse contact and horse-to-horse contact, according to Dr. Folker. Common-sense practices (disinfectants, handwashing) were stressed for backstretch employees and stable associates (such as trainers and grooms). In addition, such materials could help in curtailing the virus should it be airborne.
The teleconference also addressed a few questions related to lax security at the quarantine barns and the rationale of moving the quarantine barn from Barn A to Barn K2. But as Miller said "we're a backstretch of a racetrack, not a hospital."
Later in the conference, Dr. Ernst gave a vague timetable for the reduction of quarantine. While Hawthorne has used a 21-day timetable as given above, no official date for the lifting of the quarantine was given due to the potential of spikes and relapses.
Closing remarks were offered from those present. A mostly informative and breezy conference turned to obvious damage control. Insensitive remarks were made by Hawthorne President Carey saying that rumors and backstretch gossip (and not the injuries and deaths of race horses) were the most hurtful to the EHV quarantine. Irrelevant remarks about slots legislation during the lame-duck session in the downstate legislature were chimed from ITHA President Campbell.
The ending of the conference showed that while Hawthorne is dealing with a serious situation that affects its equine population, it also must face issues from the EHV not going away with a simple wipe. It's a dark cloud that has hung over the Hawthorne Fall meet. For the health of everyone, let's hope the clouds part.