There was much anticipation about the California Horse Racing Board meeting at Hollywood Park Wednesday because of Doug O’Neill, the trainer of I’ll Have Another--the Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner going after horse racing's first Triple Crown since 1978.
CNN even showed up.
O'Neill was facing a suspension of as much as 180 days, or roughly six months, but instead will be suspended for only 45 days, with the additional 135 days stayed for 18 months, provided there are no further serious violations. He was also fined $15,000.
The suspension will not interfere with O'Neill's work with I'll Have Another, as he attempts to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 34 years. The suspension will begin no sooner July 1. The Belmont, the third jewel of the Triple Crown, is June 9.
The penalty against O'Neill was announced after the CHRB met in a closed session following its open meeting in the morning. O'Neill did not attend the closed session. The CHRB acted on the recommednation of the Hearing Office, who investigated the case.
O’Neill faced the lengthier suspension because one of his horses tested positive for carbon dioxide, or TCO2, following an eighth-place finish in a race at Del Mar in 2010. The high level of carbon dioxide allegedly was the result of O’Neill’s horse being given a “milk shake,” which is a concoction that includes bicarbonic soda.
The Hearing Office said there was no evidence the horse was "milkshaked," but O'Neill was penelized because a trainer has to insure the condition of his horses, and the amount of TCO2 in O'Neill's horse exceeded the regulatory limit.
"I'm gratified that the CHRB found that I did not milkshake a horse or engage in an intentional conduct that would result in an elevated TCO2 level," O'Neill said. "I plan on examining and reviewing all my options following the Belmont, but right now I plan on staying focused and preparing for an winning the Triple Crown."
Another hot topic going into the CHRB meeting was the possible banning of the drug clenbuterol.
That issue appears to have reached a conclusion with the passing of a motion by CRHB member Bo Derek, who is also chair of the CHRB’s relatively new medication and track safety committee.
The motion, which will be in effect for one year beginning July 18, which marks the opening of the Del Mar meet, does not totally ban clenbuterol but prohibits the use of the bronchodilator at least 21 days in advance of a race. The 21-day limit is the recommended amount of time needed for clenbuterol to get out of a horse’s system.
Clenbuterol is generally used to help a horse with breathing problems but if used at certain levels can act like an anabolic steroid and build muscle.
CHRB Chairman Keith Brackpool said the ruling on clenbuterol is “a model of how such cases should be handled.” He called it “a balance between necessary therapeutic use and abuse."
What turned out to be a surprise hot issue at today’s meeting was a threatened boycott of the upcoming 37-day Del Mar meet by the California Thoroughbred Trainers. Many members of the CTT live in Arcadia and surrounding communities.
There is currently no agreement between the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which conducts the meet at the San Diego County racetrack, and the CTT.
The issue is exchange wagering. The CTT, according to its president, trainer John Sadler, is vehemently against the implementation of exchange wagering and thus taking a stand. “It’s all about integrity, integrity, integrity,” Sadler told the CHRB.
Exchange wagering, if implemented in California, would essentially allow individuals to bet among themselves, which would include betting on a horse to lose.
Sadler claims “it would be trainers and jockeys” who would absorb the brunt of the blame whenever there was a fishy result.
“This shows just how important the issue of exchange wagering is,” said Alan Balch, the CTT’s executive director.
Exchange wagering will be the hot topic at the CHRB’s next meeting on June 28 at Hollywood Park. If the rules and regulations pertaining to exchange wagering get CHRB approval at that time, it would take other state agencies another 30 days or so to approve them as well.
Del Mar officials believe a positive of exchange wagering is generating additional revenue that would increase purse sizes and thus attract more horses and increase field sizes. It is unclear if it would be feasible to implement exchange wagering during the meet, which ends Sept. 5.
The CHRB, at its meeting today, passed a motion to approve the meet, with the stipulation that the CTT and Del Mar officials continue to have a dialogue in hopes of reaching an agreement before the next CHRB meeting on June 28.
At the start of Thursday’s meeting CHRB member Jerry Moss, whose second term expired on Jan. 1, was honored with a resolution and a video tribute was shown. Moss’ replacement is Steve Beneto of Carmichael, CA.