West Nile Virus Suspected in Horse at Churchill Downs

Officials awaited word Nov. 12 on whether a Churchill Downs-based horse euthanized Oct. 25 had West Nile virus (WNV). A preliminary diagnosis indicated Rocket Express, a 2-year-old colt, had contracted the virus.

The Kentucky State Veterinarian's office investigated the matter, and expected the results of tests by mid-November. The office was closed Nov. 12 for the Veteran's Day holiday.

Meanwhile, Churchill Downs was told to take typical precautions, such as elimination of standing water. West Nile virus was first confirmed in a horse in Central Kentucky this summer, though the Churchill case would be the first at a racetrack in the state.

"Churchill Downs joins its horsemen in their concern about this suspected case of West Nile virus, and we're thankful that it comes at a time of year when chances of further exposure appear quite low," Churchill Downs president Alex Waldrop said. "This case does provide us with an opportunity to prepare our barn area for next spring and summer, when weather conditions are more conducive to the spread of the virus."

West Nile virus is carried by birds and spread by mosquitoes. Warmer temperatures are conducive to the growth of mosquito populations that help spread the disease, so infection is less likely now in the cooler temperatures of November. Nonetheless, horsemen who ship south have been asked to consider vaccinating their horses.

Rocket Express had been stabled at the Louisville, Ky., track since Oct. 1. He was taken to Hagyard-Davidson-McGee Veterinary Clinic in Lexington after he became ill.

The preliminary WNV diagnosis was made at the University of Kentucky's Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center.

About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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