ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) –– Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill could be facing up to a six-month suspension when the California Horse Racing Board meets to discuss a case involving one of his horses testing for a high level of total carbon dioxide in 2010.
The board meets in a closed session Thursday at Betfair Hollywood Park in Inglewood, where O’Neill’s stable is based. He won’t attend the meeting that occurs on the same day he turns 44.
The board’s monthly meeting comes in the midst of I’ll Have Another’s bid to become horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 34 years. The colt trained by O’Neill won the Derby and the Preakness last Saturday, and is preparing to run in the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
O’Neill was cited by the racing board after his horse Argenta — co-owned by O’Neill’s childhood friend and Santa Anita CEO Mark Verge — tested for a high level of TCO2 in its blood after finishing eighth in a race at Del Mar on Aug. 25, 2010. TCO2 is associated with “milkshaking,” the illegal practice of giving a horse a blend of bicarbonate of soda, sugar and electrolytes. The mixture is designed to reduce fatigue and enhance performance.
“I know I didn’t milkshake a horse. None of us around the barn milkshaked any horses,” O’Neill told The Associated Press on Wednesday at Santa Anita. “I know it’s a privilege to be a trainer, it’s not a right. I take that very seriously. 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.”
While maintaining his innocence, O’Neill has said he spent $250,000 vigorously fighting the charge, his third total carbon dioxide violation in California and fourth in his 25-year career. He filed a federal lawsuit that was dismissed by a trial judge, whose decision was upheld by an appeals court.
“I don’t know anything about what they may decide or they may not,” O’Neill said. “I know I’m contesting it big time. It’s a very serious thing. We’re taking it seriously, but my main focus right now is on what’s at hand. We got to stay focused.”
At the meeting, the board will discuss the proposed decision of a hearing officer that presided over the case. The board, whose members include actress Bo Derek, could agree, modify or reject the proposed decision.
O’Neill faces penalties ranging from a minimum 90-day suspension and a $5,000 fine to a maximum 180-day suspension and fine of $15,000, depending on whether a hearing officer’s report finds aggravating circumstances or not.
He would have the right to appeal any punishment; a judge could issue a stay that would allow him to continue training.
Board spokesman Mike Marten said earlier this month that if O’Neill is penalized, it wouldn’t interfere with him saddling I’ll Have Another in the Belmont.
“I’m living by the great Lou Holtz quote, `What’s important now,”‘ the trainer said. “Right now, what’s important is I’ll Have Another to continue to do well and get ready for the Belmont.”
It’s possible the board may not render a decision Thursday. Members could ask for more information or take the case over and hear it themselves.