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Derby Lane initiates cautionary quarantine

An outbreak of kennel cough at Jacksonville Race Track prompted officials at Derby Lane to impose a quarantine that prevents dogs from entering or leaving the St. Petersburg compound.

"We're doing this more as a precautionary measure," Derby Lane spokeswoman Vera Filipelli said.

None of the greyhounds at Derby Lane has the flulike symptoms that accompany kennel cough (tracheobronchitis), a highly contagious canine illness. And no races have been canceled.

But track officials remain cautious after experiencing the deadly virus twice in the past six years.

In 1999, Derby Lane was closed two weeks after six dogs died from streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, a pneumonialike illness that spread to tracks across the country.

In March, Derby Lane closed two weeks after an outbreak of kennel cough spread to more than 300 greyhounds and an upper respiratory illness killed two others.

"We obviously don't want to go through that experience again," Filipelli said. "With the weather going from hot to cold, flulike symptoms are everywhere, even in dogs. We're just trying to do what we can here and keep an eye on Jacksonville."

Kennel cough was detected last week at Jacksonville and the track imposed a quarantine Wednesday. Derby Lane followed suit and is the only other Florida track to issue one.

"Our biggest concern was that we have some kennels running dogs here and at Jacksonville," Filipelli said. "By doing this, hopefully we'll ward off any potential problems."

Derby Lane opened its 79th season in December, three weeks earlier than normal. The change marked the first time the track raced dogs in December since 1954. By moving up the start, Derby Lane will end its season June 19.

The adjustment added two weeks to Derby Lane's six-month live racing schedule, but track president Vey Weaver said the motive was not to compensate for a less-than-stellar 2003 season.

Derby Lane lost about $200,000 per week in state revenues last season. The track tried to make up for losing 21 performances by adding Friday matinee races, but it was not enough.