05/22/2012 2:01PM

Belmont Stakes 2012: O'Neill case set to go before California Horse Racing Board

Barbara D. Livingston
Doug O'Neill, the trainer I'll Have Another, will be the subject of a case before the California Horse Racing Board on Thursday.

While I’ll Have Another has settled in at Belmont Park in preparation for a Triple Crown bid in the 144th Belmont Stakes on June 9, his trainer, Doug O’Neill, will have his attention redirected Thursday clear across the country to Betfair Hollywood Park, where the California Horse Racing Board, at its scheduled monthly meeting, will take the next step in a case that potentially could result in O’Neill being suspended for six months.

O’Neill in the summer of 2010 was cited by the racing board for having his horse Argenta test for a high level of total carbon dioxide – TCO2 – following an eighth-place finish in a race at Del Mar. O’Neill has vigorously fought the charge. He filed a federal lawsuit that was dismissed by a trial judge, and that decision was confirmed by an appeals court.

At the meeting Thursday – O’Neill’s 44th birthday – the board, during closed, executive session, will debate the proposed decision of a hearing officer that presided over the case for the racing board. The board members received an information packet in advance of the meeting, but are not allowed to discuss the situation until meeting in closed session Thursday.

There are numerous outcomes Thursday. The board has the option of adopting, modifying, or even rejecting the proposed decision, which could range from finding O’Neill innocent to a 180-day suspension. O’Neill is eligible for the lengthy suspension because of two prior TCO2 rulings against him.

There is even the possibility that nothing will be announced Thursday, because racing board members have the option of asking for additional information, or even taking over the case and hearing it themselves. All those options are contained in the state’s racing regulations.

Last week, Mike Marten, a spokesman for the board, said that even if there is a penalty – and he does not know what the hearing officer has proposed, nor what the board will decide – the penalty would not interfere with O’Neill participating in the Belmont.

O’Neill said he has spent $250,000 fighting this charge and says he has never given a horse a “milkshake,” the euphemism for the concoction cited by racing authorities as being the most likely reason for a high TCO2 test. O’Neill has argued that other factors can cause high test results.

“I know we played by the rules,” O’Neill said. “I’m confident that, in the end, this is going to come out right.”