Sunland Park Moves Forward with Plans to Resume Live Racing
The track plans to resume live racing on February 26.
February 17, 2016
Officials with Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino are hoping to resume live racing later this month as long as tests keep turning up negative for any signs of a quick-spreading virus that has infected dozens of horses and prompted quarantines at tracks in southern New Mexico and Arizona.
(A revised condition book, covering from February 26-March 15, has been posted at Equibase.com.)
Sunland Park officials traveled to Albuquerque on Wednesday to meet with the New Mexico Racing Commission, horsemen and veterinarians who are all working to get a handle on the equine herpes outbreak that has spread fears through the state’s multimillion-dollar racing industry.
Ideas about establishing protocols for everything from track security to limiting handshakes and hugs along with other biosecurity measure were debated. But the commission has yet to come up with anything formal.
Commissioners requested track owners and others come to consensus on steps that can be taken quickly.
This is the first time New Mexico has experienced such an outbreak.
“It’s something we have to work with. We have to get it taken care of,” Commission Chair Ray Willis said.
The equine herpes virus is highly contagious among horses, but it poses no threat to humans. Symptoms include a fever, nasal discharge and a wobbly gait. In severe cases, it can cause neurological problems and result in death.
The state livestock board has documented 70 horses that have been infected since the first case was confirmed last month. Twelve horses have been euthanized.
The outbreak spurred a quarantine, and Sunland Park urged trainers to take precautions to keep from spreading the virus to other horses. More than a dozen barns have been cleared so far, but Sunland Park and the Frontera Training Center remain within the quarantine perimeter.
Sunland Park officials told the commission they’re seeing fewer positive tests as they work to contain the virus, and that bodes well for resuming live racing as soon as Feb. 26.
“The key to this is containment,” race director Dustin Dix said. “That’s where everything got away from us. This wasn’t contained at the onset.”
Despite the track’s proposals for tightening security and limiting potential pathways for spreading the virus, Dix said the problem is not something that’s going away. He urged other tracks to make long-term plans and adopt protocols in preparation for one day managing an outbreak.
The halting of races at Sunland Park has put owners and trainers in a bind because no purse money has been flowing. The average purse payout per racing day at the track ranges from $200,000 to $250,000.
Showcase races that were scheduled in late January were cancelled. Even the Sunland Derby, a March race used to prep horses for the Kentucky Derby, could be in jeopardy if the disease doesn’t clear up.
Despite the desire to start racing, some horse owners voiced concerns and suggested the track allow more time to pass after the last positive test.
Members of the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association said their goal is to make up the 180 races lost because of the outbreak by possibly extending Sunland Park’s season.
Commission members acknowledged the resumption of racing is a moving target that depends on continued testing.
In Arizona, the Turf Paradise track expects its quarantine to be lifted Thursday following a visit by that state’s veterinarian.
Three horses from New Mexico had been transported to the track north of Phoenix last month following the outbreak at Sunland Park. One horse that tested positive was euthanized, but tests were negative for the other two.
Turf Paradise will be instituting requirements for bringing horses to the track. A special area will be set up separate from the main stable area where samples will be taken and horses will be held for 48 hours.
“You can’t be too cautious,” said Vince Francia, the track’s general manager.
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