BALTIMORE — Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill could face a suspension in California after one of his horses was found to have an elevated level of total carbon dioxide, an infraction for which he previously has been punished.
The California Horse Racing Board is considering the case, which involves "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.
O'Neill faces his third total carbon dioxide violation in California and fourth in a career that has spanned 25 years.
Speaking at Pimlico Race Course on Thursday, where he is overseeing Derby winner I'll Have Another in preparation for the May 19 Preakness, O'Neill adamantly denied the charge.
"I swear on my kids' eyes I never milkshaked a horse," O'Neill said. "We had some people in charge of California racing I think didn't like a few of us that were doing well. Anyway, it's all being heard by the courts and I'm very confident everything will be fine."
The California board could consider O'Neill's latest violation as early as May 24, although the board meeting's agenda has yet to be announced.
O'Neill's most recent violation dates from an Aug. 25, 2010, race at Del Mar in California. A blood test on his horse Argenta showed elevated levels of TCO2 before it finished eighth.
He 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.
O'Neill would have the right to appeal any punishment; a judge could issue a stay that would allow him to continue training.
It's likely the process won't be resolved until after O'Neill is done with his bid to make I'll Have Another the sport's first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
"It's really old stuff that's still in litigation. I'll probably be retired by the time they come up with a verdict," O'Neill said. "I'm very confident everything will be dropped."
O'Neill isn't the first trainer to have to answer to medication violations during the Triple Crown.