Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino has suffered a major outbreak of EHV-1, forcing large-scale quarantine of the entire facility with six horses euthanized so far. We’ve got the details and a timeline.
An outbreak of the potentially deadly neurological strain of EHV-1 has wreaked havoc on New Mexico’s Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, forcing facility-wide quarantine and postponement of racing since January 21. A staggering 66 confirmed cases of EHV-1 have been reported, with six horses euthanized.
EHV, or the equine herpes virus, is present in most horses; it’s unknown what causes some horses to develop the sometimes-fatal neurological symptoms. EHV-1 and EHV-4 are the most common strains, with EHV-1 including the neurological form. EHV-1 is highly contagious and spreads through direct horse-to-horse contact, but also through indirect contact on contaminated surfaces such as feed tubs, tack and even humans and clothing. Strict quarantine and disinfectant protocol is critical in an EHV-1 outbreak to prevent further spread of the virus. EHV-1 can be spread by humans but it cannot be contracted by humans.
Here’s a timeline of the EHV-1 outbreak at Sunland Park so far:
- January 13, 2016: A five-year-old mare named Another Dollar is euthanized at Sunland Park, believed to have contracted EHV-4. This strain targets the respiratory system.
- January 21, 2016: Sunland Park announces that Another Dollar tested positive for EHV. The facility and adjacent training facilities are placed under quarantine, and no horses are permitted to ship in or out. Quarantine is in effect until the facility is deemed clear of infection.
- January 22, 2016: Live racing continues as scheduled on the 22nd, but subsequent races are postponed for two weeks. Five horses are reported to have confirmed cases of EHV-1. Any subsequent positive tests will reset the two-week suspension of racing.
- Week of January 24, 2016: A horse at Turf Paradise in Arizona is euthanized after contracting EHV-1 and two more are placed in isolation. These horses came to Turf Paradise from Sunland Park before Sunland’s quarantine was announced. Turf Paradise is placed under quarantine for 21 days, with no horses shipping in or out, though racing continues as scheduled. Other tracks around the country place bans on horses shipping in from New Mexico and Arizona.
- February 4, 2016: The New Mexico Livestock Board reports that 49 horses have confirmed cases of EHV-1, with six horses euthanized. 20 barns on Sunland’s property have been quarantined (within the track’s facility-wide quarantine).
- February 5, 2016: Sunland begins following a new training schedule: horses from non-quarantined barns may train from 6:00 am to 9:00 am, with a training session for horses from quarantined barns to follow from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm.
- February 12, 2016: 64 horses are reported testing positive for EHV-1.
- February 13, 2016: Sunland announces that it intends to start racing again on February 26. At this time, 66 horses total have tested positive for EHV-1 with six euthanized.
- February 16, 2016: Just days after the track’s announcement of plans to start racing again, the total number of confirmed cases of EHV-1 is reported at 70. Horsemen at the track report poor prevention practices and a lack of compliance with recommended management practices.
Sunland Park has come under intense criticism for its handling of the EHV-1 outbreak, most notably allowing live racing to continue through January 22 though EHV-1 was confirmed on the 21st. A media/PR representative from Sunland defended the track’s decision, stating that “we raced on Friday, January 22nd because we did not know if it was a single, isolated incident. The additional positive tests returned at around 4:30 pm and we immediately suspended live racing.”
Sunland’s director of marketing Ethan Linder stated, “we have roughly 1,500 racehorses on property. Of those 1,500, only 40 are in isolation. We had one bad test yesterday. We’ve gotten to a point where it’s not rampant through the barns and why are we holding up 1,460 horses and the entire racing economy of New Mexico because we have 40 isolated?”
The American Association of Equine Practitioners, or AAEP, recommends maintaining isolation periods around confirmed EHV-1 cases for 28 days. For more information about EHV-1 and proper quarantine protocols, we recommend the AAEP’s EHV-1 resources.
Updated 2/16/16 at 1:45 PM.