US thoroughbred trainer Doug O’Neill, on the verge of Triple Crown success, has copped a 45-day ban from California racing authorities over heightened carbon dioxide levels in a mare.
Such heightened levels can be an indication of a practice called milkshaking, in which a horse is given a mixture of baking soda, sugar and water, but it can be caused by other influences.
The officer that heard the case, Steffan Imhoff, has acknowledged that evidence showed the horse in question, Argenta, had not been milkshaked, but the trainer was ultimately responsible for the condition of the horse regardless.
O’Neill has strenuously denied any wrongdoing in the case.
The ban will not have taken effect before O’Neill turns out I’ll Have Another for a run in the Belmont Stakes.
I’ll Have Another has already won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, and his many fans are hoping he will chalk up a rare Triple Crown triumph in the June 9 race.
A win in the Belmont would make I’ll Have Another the 12th Triple Crown winner, and the first since Affirmed 34 years ago
The seven-member California Horse Racing Board met in closed session on Thursday to consider the recommendations of the hearing officer in the O’Neill case.
The case centred around the mare Argenta, who ran eighth in the sixth race at Del Mar on August 25, 2010.
Laboratory testing revealed that a sample taken from Argenta exceeded the regulatory threshold of 37.0mml/l for total carbon dioxide (TCO2), which represents a Class 3 violation.
The hearing officer, who conducted a 7-day hearing, agreed with O’Neill that the evidence demonstrated that Argenta had not been milkshaked, so milkshaking was not the cause of the TCO2 overage.
He also determined there were no suspicious betting patterns in the race, and further determined there was no evidence of any intentional acts on the part of O’Neill in connection with this incident.
However, Rule 1887 in California holds the trainer to be the absolute insurer of the condition of the horse.
The board noted that The Jockey Club had publicly stated that “trainers should be advised that the elevated TCO2 values, regardless of causation, are violations of the rules and those penalties for excessive TCO2 values are severe. Therefore, trainers and their veterinarians should work closely to identify any procedure or practices that may elevate the TCO2 values.”
The hearing officer found that, under the trainer insurer rule, while also taking into consideration the mitigating factors, that O’Neill should be suspended for 45 days, with an additional 135 days of suspension stayed for 18 months, provided O’Neill commits no further Class 1, 2, or 3 violations, regardless of jurisdiction.
The hearing officer also recommended a $US15,000 fine. The board concurred.
The penalties, subject to appeal, take effect on July 1.
O’Neill told media he was concentrating on preparations for the Belmont Stakes, and would consider his options in the case after the race.
He said he was gratified the board found he had not milkshaked the horse, nor intentionally done anything that may have resulted in the heightened carbon dioxide level.