OLDSMAR — From her second-level grandstand box seats at Tampa Bay Downs, Mary Jean Bonfili has a great view of the horses, the racing surfaces and the tote board. What she can't see is why her thoroughbreds are not allowed at her favorite track.
Bonfili, a St. Petersburg businesswoman, is among the horse owners whose thoroughbreds at Hawthorne Race Course have been banned from the Downs because of an outbreak of equine herpes virus (EHV-1). The highly contagious, airborne disease was originally detected Oct. 14 at the Cicero/Stickney, Ill., facility. Five horses have died, the latest one Dec. 1. Most of the nearly 2,000 horses stabled at Hawthorne have not been allowed to leave for out-of-state quarantine facilities. Hawthorne continues racing with the horses on its grounds.
"I am totally depressed," said Bonfili, whose horses don't have the virus. "I love (the Downs), and now I've got three nice horses that I can't run here because of the quarantine. Apparently, there's a 21-day gestation period on this disease. I don't understand why you should be banned if we have healthy horses."
Downs vice president and general manager Peter Berube announced Nov. 30 on the track website that Hawthorne horses would not be permitted on the Oldsmar grounds for the 2012-13 season.
"Our priorities include the welfare of our locally based population and taking the necessary precautions to prevent the virus from entering our stable area," he said.
Dr. Michael Short, veterinarian manager of the Florida Department of Agriculture, Division of Animal Industry, said his office has received "hundreds of calls" over the Hawthorne situation.
"We won't supersede anything (the Downs) is doing," Short said. "I think only one person, Christine Janks, has brought her horses home (to Florida)."
He said while a virus generally runs its course, it remains in a horse's system for the rest of its life and can reactivate.
"Until (Hawthorne) has subsided with the outbreak, we're going to stand firm (on the ban) for the entire meet," Downs spokeswoman Margo Flynn said. "(The outbreak) has gone on much longer that it should have with live cases. We're protecting all the horsemen here and the horses that ship in as well."
Trainer Derek Ryan supports the Downs stance.
"You can't let (Hawthorne horses) in because they had another positive there last week," he said. "What happens if they come in and then later, a horse from Chicago comes up positive. It's March, people are looking to run in the (Tampa Bay) Derby here, and we're looking to go north. We're stuck."
MORE HORSES: Defending champion Action Andy faces six rivals in the $60,000 Pelican Stakes (Race 6, 2:58 p.m.) at the Downs.
DOGS: The $75,000 Holiday Distance Challenge resumes tonight in Races 6 and 10 at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg.