Trainer Doug O'Neill has been handed a conditional 45-day suspension and a $15,000 fine as the result of a horse in his care racing in 2010 with an elevated level of total carbon dioxide.
In determining the penalty for the class 3 violation, the California Horse Racing Board accepted the recommendation of a state hearing officer following a seven-day hearing. CHRB Executive Director Kirk Breed will decide when the suspension will begin, but it will occur no sooner than July 1, 2012, according to a statement from the CHRB.
O'Neill is the trainer of I'll Have Another , winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). I'll Have Another will attempt to become racing's first Triple Crown winner since 1978 in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 9 at Belmont Park.
The CHRB met in a closed session May 24 at Betfair Hollywood Park to consider the recommended decision in the O'Neill case.
The unnamed hearing officer, in his recommendation to stay 135 days of the 180-day suspension, found that O'Neill was not guilty of giving the horse an illegal "milkshake." He found that milkshaking—an illicit concoction of baking soda bicarbonate and/or other alkaline substances that is fed to a horse shortly before it competes—was not the cause of the TCO2 overage.
O'Neill was penalized under a CHRB rule that holds the trainer to be the absolute insurer of the condition of the horse.
The horse, Argenta, finished out of the money in a race at Del Mar Aug. 25, 2010. A pre-race blood sample taken from the horse was found to contain a TCO2 level of 39.4 millimoles per liter, well above the 37.0 legal limit. The testing was done at the University of California-Davis equine laboratory.
O'Neill has had three prior findings of excess TCO2 in horses under his care and could have faced a full 180-day suspension under current penalty guidelines in California.
In his finding, the hearing officer determined there were no suspicious betting patterns in the race. He further determined there was no evidence of any intentional acts by O’Neill in connection with the incident.
"I'm gratified that the CHRB found that I did not 'milkshake' a horse or engage in any intentional conduct that would result in an elevated TC02 level," O'Neill said in response to the decision. "I plan on examining and reviewing all of my options following the Belmont Stakes, but right now I plan on staying focused on preparing for and winning the Triple Crown.”
The hearing officer took into consideration other mitigating factors in determining the sentence as well, according to the statement from the CHRB.
He decided that that in addition to the fine, O’Neill should serve 45 days. An additional 135 days of suspension was stayed for 18 months, provided O’Neill commits no further Class 1, 2, or 3 violations, regardless of jurisdiction.
O'Neill proclaimed his innocence in the case from the beginning, and said he has spent $250,000 defending himself.
``I know I didn't milkshake a horse. None of us around the barn milkshaked any horses,'' O'Neill told The Associated Press earler. ``You got to have rules and I respect rules, but when you get faulty science involved, it costs a lot of money unfortunately, but you've got to fight it and that's what we're doing.''