04/11/2013 4:02PM

Jay Hovdey: O'Neill getting ready for his second close-up

Benoit & Associates
Doug O'Neill and jockey Kevin Krigger will both be in the media spotlight in the run-up to the May 4 Kentucky Derby.

We’ll find out soon enough if there is a statute of limitations on heightened media scrutiny, or if Doug O’Neill will get credit for time served last year when he stage dives back into the Triple Crown mosh pit next month with Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents.

For those who have just joined the conversation, from the moment O’Neill won the 2012 Kentucky Derby with Paul Reddam’s I’ll Have Another his record of regulatory violations was like red meat to the vast majority of the national media that treats horse racing like a carnival sideshow.

[DERBY WATCH: Top 20 Kentucky Derby contenders with odds and video]

As a result, O’Neill had to face blaring and sometimes inaccurate reports from such heavyweight outlets as CNN, the New York Times, and "Real Sports," along with lead paragraphs like this, from a widely disseminated Associated Press story by Justin Pritchard:

"The affable man with the horse that may become the first Triple Crown winner in more than a generation can’t seem to outrun his unflattering nickname: ‘Drug’ O’Neill."

Never mind that the AP story went on to put O’Neill’s record in unsensational perspective alongside other trainers with horses running in the 2012 Belmont Stakes, or that a noted racing regulator was quoted as saying of O’Neill, "There are a lot of people in racing that have records similar to his."

The O’Neill narrative picked up steam after I’ll Have Another won the Preakness, then controversy was cranked to 11 when New York officials put all the Belmont starters in the same detention barn leading up to the final leg of the Triple Crown. The New York decision seemed nothing more than a thinly veiled public relations reaction to a ruling handed down that O’Neill finally was ordered to serve a California suspension for a violation from 2010.

When the carnival ended, and I’ll Have Another was scratched with a leg injury on the day before the Belmont Stakes, O’Neill was too exhausted to even breathe a sigh of relief that, at the very least, his media ordeal was over.

Time heals all, and it’s possible O’Neill might be a glutton for punishment. Late last year, Showtime’s fledgling "60 Minutes Sports" came knocking at the stable door with a request to follow the trainer’s every move in hopes the O’Neill stable would head back to the Derby, or at least provide an interesting ride. The show, now airing its fourth episode, is spinoff of the same "60 Minutes" franchise that gave Zenyatta a big wet kiss in fall 2010, before her final start. It also is hoping to follow the lead of HBO’s "Real Sports" niche of hard-hitting sports journalism.

Anyway, O’Neill agreed, and the cameras have been following him ever since.

"We got a pretty good crash course in the media last year," O’Neill said. "From that experience, I could tell they weren’t going in with a negative approach. I know that anyone who’s fairly new to the game and interested in it will have questions about injuries and drug violations. That’s normal, and I did the best trying to answering them."

Goldencents will arrive at the Derby bearing gifts for the media of a black jockey from the Virgin Islands named Kevin Krigger and an ownership that includes Rick Pitino, coach of the recently crowned NCAA basketball champions from the University of Louisville. As in Louisville, Kentucky.

Still, it will be the same O’Neill, excited at the chance, affable on cue, and probably sporting another growth of playoff beard. His smile will last as long as it takes for that first press conference question, "How do you feel about what happened last year?" and variations on "Have you stopped beating your wife?" So, to save everyone time, here is a list of O’Neill’s official transgressions since I’ll Have Another was scratched.

On July 12, 2012, O’Neill was fined $400 by Hollywood Park’s stewards for the late declaration of a horse. The stewards minutes regarding the case state that the trainer "accidentally medicated one of his runners, preventing that horse from running."

On July 22, 2012, O’Neill was fined $300 for the late registration of a horse as an authorized bleeder.

O’Neill began his suspension on Aug. 19, 2012, and returned on Sept. 28. During that period the O’Neill horses were trained by his assistant, Leandro Mora. The Mora operation had no rulings against it, but the stable did win 10 races at Del Mar, including a hot maiden race with Goldencents, and took the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing with Handsome Mike. But back to Doug.

On Nov. 17, 2012, O’Neill was fined $750 for failure to report that a horse had been gelded since its last start.

On Dec. 7, 2012, O’Neill was fined $400 for the late declaration of a horse who had been administered penicillin.

That’s it. Go crazy. On a related theme, O’Neill was kicking himself for the way he had prepared Goldencents for the San Felipe Stakes on March 9 – his first race in two months – in which the colt chased a fast pace and faded to fourth, conclusively beaten by Hear the Ghost and Flashback.

"He was so fresh last time," O’Neill said. "In his last work before the San Felipe, we had him go six furlongs, and I have a horse jump in halfway through who can run and was flying. I don’t know where I came up with that, but for some reason I thought it was a good idea. Goldencents was trying to settle, now this fresh horse jumps in. They go in 1:10 and change with a medium gallop out. It was a fast time, and a bad work."

Then again, a good horse can overcome almost anything. As a result of the turnaround by Goldencents in the Santa Anita Derby, "60 Minutes Sports" finds itself on the bandwagon of a bona fide Kentucky Derby contender. The O’Neill segment of "60 Minutes Sports" is scheduled to debut May 1.

"I guess I have faith in humanity sometimes," O’Neill said with a self-deprecating laugh. "They’ve been nothing but awed by the business and the sport. But if they butcher me or butcher the game, I’ll apologize to everybody and promise never to do Showtime again."