"I'll Have Another" may be the first horse since "Affirmed" in 1978 to win the Triple Crown. But right now his trainer, Doug O'Neill, is in the middle of an ongoing controversy surrounding the use of performance enhancing drugs in the horse racing industry.
O'Neill was suspended last week for for giving a horse performance enhancing drugs by the California Horse Racing Board. "Argenta" tested positive in 2010 for elevated levels of carbon dioxide, which points to the illegal practice of "milkshaking". This is when the horse is given a combination of bicarbonate soda, sugar and electrolytes to enhance performance.
He has been cited for drug violations more than a dozen times in multiple states, with the latest violation occurring as early as 2010. There doesn't seem to be anything stopping him from continuing to give horses performance enhancing drugs. After repeated being found guilty, he continues to deny all allegations.
According to the New York Times, O'Neill's horses break down or become injured at a rate that is twice the national average. Along with his dubious record, this statistic points to the fact that O'Neill is repeatedly giving his horses performance enhancements. What would stop him from giving a horse drugs in what is likely the biggest races of his career: The Kentucky Derby and The Preakness? Now, with those won, he has a shot at the Triple Crown.
The board has already made a ruling to suspend O'Neil. However, the suspension will not come into effect until June 9th, after the Belmont. O'Neill is not allowed to train the horse except under the supervision of a New York Racing Board member, but the fact that he is allowed near the horse at all, has some animal rights organisations up in arms over the judgment.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has asked New York Governor Andrew Coumo to take "special measures" to insure that "I'll have Another" is safe for race day. Governor Coumo recently took over New York's poorly managed racing industry by suspending the New York Racing Association and forming a government board to eliminate drug use and protect racer's safety. PETA thinks his record puts him in a good position to make these changes.
PETA wants to have "I'll Have Another" on around-the-clock surveillance during the week leading up to the Belmont Stakes. Although O'Neill, himself, is not allowed around the horse, except under supervision, that does not mean someone working for the camp couldn't get to the horse in that time frame.
So far the New York Racing Association has made changes to protect "I'll Have Another", although he will not be under around-the-clock surveillance. Instead he will be on lockdown in a secure barn at Belmont's stables. Any treatments administered to the horse must be run by the board, and O'Neill must submit daily veterinary records for every horse he is training.
O'Neill has stated that he will comply with these regulations, saying he understands why they are in place.
If a Triple Crown winner is later found to have been given performance enhancing drugs, it will put a permanent black mark on the industry. If he wins the Belmont in June, let's hope that the owners and trainers keep their integrity intact.[h/t: BusinessInsider]