06/07/2012 10:01AM

Belmont Stakes 2012: Security barn irks trainers

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Tom Keyser
Security officials check trainer Doug O’Neill’s supplies Wednesday as I’ll Have Another settles in to the Belmont Stakes detention barn.

ELMONT, N.Y. – The requirement that all horses in the Belmont Stakes reside in a detention barn for 72 hours before the race has angered a number of trainers in the race who say that those staffing the barn lack necessary horse sense and that the atmosphere is not conducive to horses performing at their optimum.

The latest contretemps occurred Wednesday afternoon, when the security staff at the barn told Doug O’Neill, trainer of I’ll Have Another, and Michael Matz, trainer of Union Rags, that they could not cook their oats before feeding their horses. O’Neill, who has outwardly maintained an even keel over all the hoops he has been required to jump through leading up to this race – no nasal strip for his horse, moving to the security barn, exhaustive requirements for licensing for his personnel – finally had enough and threatened to pull his horse from the race, pointing out that I’ll Have Another needs his oats cooked to avoid colic.

Minutes later, permission was granted to cook oats, so Oatgate was averted.

“They yell about Lasix and things like that, but the biggest problem is uniformity,” Matz said Thursday morning. “Why can’t we have the same rules for the Triple Crown races? They didn’t have this for the Derby. They didn’t have this for the Preakness. Why are they making a big deal here?”

The New York State Racing and Wagering Board announced May 30 – 11 days after the Preakness, only 10 days before the Belmont – that a detention barn would be set up for the Belmont Stakes horses. It forced trainers to alter their schedules. Matz, for instance, was not planning to arrive here until Thursday from the Fair Hill training center in Maryland, but he was forced to come a day earlier.

“They knew all along the Belmont was on June 9,” he said.

All 12 runners had to be in the detention barn by midday Wednesday. With the exception of when they go out to train in the morning, they must remain in that barn until the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

The barn was chaotic Thursday as most Belmont horses went out to train just after the renovation break and came back to be bathed at similar times.

“It was like traffic going into New York City,” said Bob Baffert, trainer of Paynter.

“I don’t know that they are able to relax like they would in a quieter barn,” Matz said.

That atmosphere, trainer D. Wayne Lukas said, is the biggest drawback to the detention barn.

“If a horse next to you is raising hell, what can you do?” said Lukas, who has Optimizer in the Belmont. “They could have put a security guard in front of every horse at his own stall and accomplished the same thing. It’s all perception. It’s not an ideal situation for a security barn.

“What happens if a horse gets stirred up in there for two or three days? A guy is betting his money believing a horse will run like he did in the past out of his own barn, so how is that protecting the public?”

Lukas said having the Belmont horses, and only the Belmont horses, go to a detention barn was hypocritical in that no other races Saturday, or even this year in New York, are subject to that requirement.

“I’ve got Hamazing Destiny running in a $400,000 race Saturday,” he said, referring to the True North for older sprinters. “So that’s not important?”