Trainer Doug O'Neill has been suspended a minimum of 45 days and fined $15,000 after one of his runners at Del Mar in 2010 tested in excess of the permitted level of total carbon dioxide. The penalty will not begin until July 1 at the earliest.
The suspension comes at a time when racing has been under heavy scrutiny for the way horses are prepared for their races. And it has been ever more noticeable since O'Neill has come to the forefront of the news for being the trainer of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner I'll Have Another.
This is in no way related to any recent incident.
He was cited by the racing board after Argenta—co-owned by O'Neill's childhood friend and CEO of Santa Anita race track Mark Verge—tested for a high level of TCO2 (total carbon dioxide) in its blood after finishing eighth in a race at Del Mar on August 25, 2010.
The maximum permitted level of TCO2 is 37 milimoles and is classified as a Class 3 violation.
The CHRB met in closed session for more than two hours Thursday at Betfair Hollywood Park in Inglewood, CA to consider the recommended decision of Steffan Imhoff, the hearing officer in O'Neill's case.
While elevated carbon dioxide is associated with milkshaking, the officer agreed with O'Neill that his horse Argenta had not been fed a mixture of bicarbonate of soda, sugar and electrolytes that enhances performance and combats fatigue. The officer did not indicate what might have caused the overage.
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The officer found there were no suspicious betting patterns in the race and that there was no evidence of any intentional acts on the part of O'Neill in connection with the incident.
However before the hearing, the parties had stipulated that the Maddy Laboratory at UC Davis detected an excess level of TCO2 in the horse's blood sample, and CHRB Rule 1887 holds a trainer to be ultimately responsible for the condition of a horse.
Based on that rule and mitigating factors, the hearing officer recommended that O'Neill should be suspended for 45 days, with an additional 135 days stayed for 18 months, provided he commits no further Class 1, 2 or 3 violations in any state.
The racing board agreed with the recommendations and CHRB executive director Kirk Breed will decide when O'Neill's suspension will begin, but it will be no sooner than July 1 according to the report.
For his star colt, I'll Have Another, his next scheduled start is the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 9, so O'Neill should be available to continue his duties and saddle the likely race favorite.
I'll Have Another will be attempting to become just the 12th horse to win the American thoroughbred horse racing Triple Crown and the first since Affirmed did it 34 years ago.