06/08/2012 6:07PM

Beyer: O'Neill handled himself admirably throughout a difficult Triple Crown run

Barbbara D. Livingston
Trainer Doug O'Neill (right) and owner Paul Reddam are visibly disappointed as they address the media after scratching I'll Have Another from the Belmont Stakes.

Before I’ll Have Another was injured and withdrawn from the Belmont Stakes, people who care about horse racing hoped that he could win the Triple Crown and give the sport an exciting and positive story. It hasn’t had many of those lately.

For months leading up to the Belmont Stakes, Thoroughbred racing found itself under attack. The New York Times ran a front-page investigative report examining the high fatality rate at U.S. tracks. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lambasted the death of a horse in the filming of the racing drama “Luck,” and the outcry made HBO cancel the series. Politicians made an issue of safety in racing and urged stricter oversight by the government.

Underlying all of these criticisms was the assumption that some malfeasance is likely to be involved when horses get hurt or die - either through the profligate use of drugs or outright animal cruelty.

But the tendon injury that prompted the immediate retirement of I’ll Have Another underscored the more banal truth: Thoroughbred racehorses are fragile and injuries to them are commonplace. They have been bred for three centuries to produce maximum speed and stamina by carrying a powerful body on spindly, delicate underpinnings. Their ankles, knees, and legs are always vulnerable. I’ll Have Another was a different case only because his injury made front-page headlines and because it made more sense to retire a colt with future stud value than to bring him back to competition next year.

Because of the animals’ fragility, Thoroughbred trainers everywhere do what Doug O’Neill, the trainer of I’ll Have Another, was doing at Belmont Park all week. They watch intently. They watch how a horse moves when he walks and gallops; they observe his demeanor and his eating habits; they examine his legs looking for any abnormality. Whether a trainer is managing a potential Triple Crown winner or a $10,000 claimer who might help pay the month’s bills, he knows that the most important part of his job to detect potential problems before they turn into big - or even catastrophic - issues.  Only the most irresponsible trainers would thrust an injured horse into battle.

O’Neill said at a press conference Friday that he had detected a slight change in I’ll Have Another’s demeanor this week - “He’s been a little quiet” - but that his legs had looked perfect until Thursday morning. He perceived a “loss of definition in the left front leg” but thought that the colt looked normal on Friday and sent him to the track for his morning exercise. But after the gallop, O’Neill said, “You could tell that the swelling was back.” He summoned the vet, and soon he learned that his hopes of training the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 were gone.

Owner Paul Reddam gave his trainer full credit for his vigilance. “The horse is not lame. He could have run tomorrow. You wouldn’t have known a difference had he not looked at it. So Doug, through extreme caution about the horse, had the vet come over and scan him.” 

Reddam surely made a point extolling O’Neill in response to the avalanche of denunciations his trainer had received since winning the Kentucky Derby. While the issues of horse safety and the overuse of drugs had been boiling before the Derby, O’Neill’s success let the sport’s critics put a face on the abuses in horse racing.

When New York authorities announced that they would stable all of the Belmont Stakes runners in a special detention barn, the New York Times reported that the action was taken “to ensure that I’ll Have Another’s bid to sweep the series is contested . . . without illegal drugs.” It explained:  “O’Neill has racked up multiple violations in a handful of states and was suspended for 45 days by California regulators for yet another violation.”

O’Neill sounds like an arch-villain until one looks at the details of his violations. Racing fans can readily recognize the form of horses whose trainers are cheating with drugs; it is marked by sudden improvement that defies all logic. O’Neill’s horses never look like this - not even in the cases that earned him a penalty. The 45-day ban was for a too-high level of carbon dioxide, which can be a sign of the illicit procedure known as “milkshaking” but can also be the result of many other factors (such as dietary supplements or Lasix). California officials handed out the suspension because rules are rules, and those rules need to be enforced to stop milkshaking. But they determined that O’Neill’s runner “had not been milkshaked and there was no evidence of any intentional acts on the part of O’Neill.” Yet the media continued to cite this case as Exhibit A to prove that O’Neill’s presence was a blight on the Triple Crown. 

There was nothing in O’Neill’s handling of I’ll Have Another or his comportment throughout the Triple Crown series that would confirm this caricature.

He managed his horse flawlessly. He withstood calumny with more grace than most human beings could muster. And when he was deprived of his shot at the greatest prize in American racing, he took the setback calmly and without self-pity. “It’s far from tragic,” he said, “but it’s very disappointing.” Like every other member of his profession, he understands that injuries and disappointments are an unavoidable part of the game. 

© 2012 The Washington Post

Ian GW More than 1 year ago
I lost all credit when they sold the horse overseas. Lets keep our top horses in America and the jobs that go with it.
Joseph Hennessy More than 1 year ago
O'Niel is a cheater,that horse was scratched due to scrutiny.
Sharla Sanders More than 1 year ago
Doug O'Neill and the rest of the team have not had ANYTHING but the best intentions with I'll Have Another, anyone that says differently absolutely has no idea what they are talking about. There is no conspiracy theory here, simply a decision that was a business decision regarding the option to go to stud with I'll Have Another, when the iron is hot. Seriously no one in the same position would be making a different decision. The horse earned almost $ 3 million dollars in his short racing career. He did all that was asked of him, and for anyone to suggest differently is just plain ignorant. Yes, ignorant. Business is business, its been very simply stated if IHA came back a year to the races after his tendon issue, and then was less than 100% and lost a step, than his value at stud would be decreased. Kentucky Derby winners are regularly retired after their three year old year without any injury, so stop the speculating and trying to find something wrong with what Doug and the rest of the team decided to do. Its enough already!
Ian Fick More than 1 year ago
Mr. Beyer, I hope that when they day comes that you decide to retire from DRF, that someone as articulate and well informed as you comes in to continue your fine editorials.
Robert Smith More than 1 year ago
Hes not the only one that writes for the Form.
Bob Jones More than 1 year ago
You are absolutely right Andy, O'Neill handled himself extremely well throughout this. And you are also right that O'Neill has never been known as a miracle trainer who claims a horse and then the horse miraculously increases his Beyer by 50 points and wins by 10 after running last the previous two races. The networks disgraced themselves with their coverage, but O'Neill showed nothing but class and decency. Nice job, Doug.
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Last add TC: A combination of the detention barn & no works since yum brands led to the the demise of IHA and the mariner D O'neil & Co CA, KY, MD .........Si..........NY .........No...... Wonder if when they return in 2013, try again, will the Hopeful be on sced ?
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
Thank you for this article. It should have been done first in NY times. While judging Mr ONeill for weeks, without full disclosure, NY showed lack of personal, professional and journalistic ethics while projecting same thing they lacked on another object. NY and the NY times should be the last to point anything unethical elsewhere.
Judith Wallace More than 1 year ago
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
The Belmont is not considered the top race for the Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby is considered the most important and the most coveted race of the year - by both owners and trainers alike. It's the race they ALL want to win - and they want to win it VERY badly. The Belmont only becomes a major player in the Triple Crown race when there is actually a Triple Crown on the line that particular year. And that has happened only 22 times since 1919.
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
Well said. The prestige is in the Kentucky Derby. The Preakness keeps the interest going. Belmont is of little consequence without the winner from these two races appearing in the stakes race there.
Barnabas Collinschnad More than 1 year ago
and your point is? i mean, you are saying the belmont is not the most important, yet in the next phrase saying that it is only a major player when there is a triple crown at stake. without winning the belmont, there is no triple crown. the belmont's not all that important? i beg to differ. look what it all came down to this year- the belmont stakes.
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
You didn't read my comment properly or her comment properly. It would have helped if you had done so. I said the Kentucky Derby is considered the MOST important race of the Triple Crown races, as it is the race that is the most highly prized and coveted by both horse owners and trainers. That is simply the truth. It is the Triple Crown race that has the most prestige attached to it. At no time did I say that the Belmont Stakes is not an important race. Of course the Belmont is an important race. All three Triple Crown races - The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness Stakes and The Belmont Stakes - are all IMPORTANT, but the Kentucky Derby has always been the most coveted race. During the years that an ACTUAL Triple Crown chase is on the line and to be determined in the Belmont, the Belmont then rises in importance. A Triple Crown chase culminating at the Belmont Stakes has happened only 22 times since 1919.
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
Why r u screaming.
Judith Wallace More than 1 year ago
YYZGUY1 More than 1 year ago
Congrats to the Classy connections of Union Rags. Just what the sports needs. No Apologies necessary, right Andy? Is it true that IHA is entered in a $2000 Claimer at Podunk Downs Monday night? 2005: 2/5/2005, Bay Meadows, Jake Skate, Dantrolene; 3/10/2005, Santa Anita, Spirited, Dexamethasone; 5/27/2006, Hollywod Park, Wisdom Cat, TCO2; 1/17/2008, Santa Anita, Chicks Rule, TCO2; 12/27/2008, Santa Anita, Esperamos, Flunixin; 8/20/2009, Del Mar, Bench the Judge, Bute overage; 2/12/10, Gulfstream Park, Pinkarella, Testosterone; 4/3/2010, Hawthorne, Stephen's Got Hope, TCO2; 4/30/2010, Churchill Downs, Enriched, Omeprazole Sulfide; 8/25/2010, Del Mar, Argenta, TCO2; 2/5/2011, Santa Anita, Separate Forest, Etodolac; 9/17/2011, Fairplex Park, Naturaliste, Hydroxydantrolene.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like your sarcasm YYZGUY1, because being sarcastic brings home the point one is trying to make, without political niceties. When an egg is rotten, it should be called rotten, not inedible. As to IHA, it is my opinion, and only my opinion, that the tendon injury is pure BS. I know for a fact that countless veterinarians are crooked as hell and will certify fiction as fact. Much more believable, in my view, was that the IHA connections realized that they were headed for an ignominous whipping at the hands of Union Rags and Paynter, both REAL DEAL racehorses. While avoiding a whipping they in essense are telling the very, very, very few astute breeders as follows: Hey guys IHA is for the mindless Wall St. Pollyannas. You few, as astute horsemen/breeders now know this horse is: A case of Chiropractic manipulation due to problems of the back; Nasality enlargement due to so-so breathing. AND now we have told the world he is unsound, with bad tendons, lackluster pedigree, and bypassed by the community of sharp horse buyers who ALL were unwilling to bid $35,100 for him at 2. A fool and his money are soon parted; so I do not doubt that IHA may be syndicated for what will be, again, in my opinion, way more than a stud prospect of such questionable soundness and weak,uncommercial appeal, should go for. That is my brutal assessment, if I were a practicing bloodstock agent giving advise. IHA reminds me of Canonero II, winner of the 1974 Ky. Derby under equally questionable clouds, who was a total bust at stud. I myself, personally, would not pay $5,000 to breed to him, unless I had a mare I wanted to dump at Keeneland in Nov. 2013.Time will tell, as it always does. Meantime, congratulations to Mr. Matz and Mr. Baffert for Bodemeister, Union Rags and Paynter.Those are solid credential horses.
Brian Book More than 1 year ago
you are an idiot. iha would have chewed these horses up. you dont have $5,000 to pay to breed him.
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
Tom Gregory More than 1 year ago
Bobby McMeans More than 1 year ago
Those ARE solid credential horses that WERE beaten by I'll Have Another. Everything else you said is total unintelligence regarding horseracing of which I am sure you are not associated with Anonymous. As far as soundness and breeding, one of the greatest sires of all time, Mr. Prospector, was chronically unsound and yet sired sound, fast horses. Moneywise, The Green Monkey sold for $15 million and never broke his maiden so it has no bearing on anything what they paid for IHA. Lackluster pedigree? By a young sire, it sounds a lot like Funny Cide win he won the Derby and Preakness. He was categorize as being by a backyard sire, Distorted Humor, who's stud fee at that time was $12,500. Of course he went on to command $225,000 after he had a few crops to race. As far as faking a tendon injury, you should be writing mystery novels. Conspiracy theoriest as it's best. I'm sorry you couldn't enjoy this memorable Triple Crown season but Team O'Neill and Baffert and Company will go back to California and leave you Easties to complain about yourselves...
[removed] More than 1 year ago
This comment has been deleted
Bsb Jaws More than 1 year ago
This is BSB Jaws . This format is stronached up & posted me as Anonymous when I responded to the PETA plants.
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
I'll Have Another's accomplishments is still far superior to any other 3 year old's accomplishments this year. IHA retired on top of the game and at the peak of his form. No 3 year old horse this year, including Union Rags, has the list of accomplishments behind his name that I'll Have Another has, your disrespectful sarcasm in your not withstanding. I'll Have Another has four G1 wins in his resume this year, including 2/3 of the Triple Crown races, including the Kentucky Derby, the most coveted prize race in the country. I'll Have Another has the highest speed figures of any of the top 3 year old colts so far this year, and he is considered to be the class of his generation by professional horsemen, owners, professional trainers, the professional racing media and professional handicappers alike. I'll Have Another retired at the top of his profession Friday, and at the top of his game. And that will not be changed.
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
Are these your drugs?