06/11/2006 11:00PM

O'Neill barn draws detention for positive

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hollywood Park's leading trainer, Doug O'Neill, had a starter test in excess of the permitted level of bicarbonates, or total carbon dioxide, at Hollywood last month, an infraction likely to result in a penalty from the California Horse Racing Board.

As a result of the test findings, O'Neill's runners will be confined to a prerace detention barn for 24 hours during a 30-day period from Wednesday through July 13. For a 15-day period beginning on July 14, O'Neill's stable will be subject to surveillance from the racing board.

A hearing with the racing board on the test findings will be conducted at a later date. O'Neill could face a fine or suspension.

The excess level of total carbon dioxide was found in a May 27 prerace blood test taken from Wisdom Cat, who finished last of eight at 48-1 in an allowance race that day. Wisdom Cat tested in excess of 37 millimoles per liter of blood, the permitted level. No specific test results were released.

O'Neill said he was informed of the test results on Saturday morning.

"I'm not happy with this at all," O'Neill said. Wisdom Cat "ran up the track. It's obvious to me that it can happen to any horse."

A high level of bicarbonates or carbon dioxide is attributed to the presence of alkalyzing agents, sometimes referred to as milkshakes, which are believed to give horses more stamina. Testing for excessive levels of carbon dioxide has been conducted at Southern California tracks since December 2004. The testing was administered by a consortium of racetracks and horsemen's organizations until October 2005, when the state racing board took over.

O'Neill described the test findings as "an embarrassment. The layperson thinks that Doug O'Neill is sticking a tube down their nose," he said, referring to one technique used to administer alkalyzing agents. "This was geared to stopping milkshaking horses, and none of our horses are milkshaked."

Although O'Neill expressed concern about how some horses would handle the change of scenery to a detention barn in the 24 hours before racing, he said the detention barn would not affect the number of starters from his stable, which has more than 100 horses.

"I'm looking forward to kicking some butt out of the quarantine barn," he said.

Back to main track for Lava Man

Lava Man, who won his first Grade 1 on turf in Saturday's $300,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap on Saturday, will return to the main track for a defense of his title in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 8, O'Neill said.

"I think the turf is over for now," O'Neill said.

In the Whittingham, Lava Man became the rare horse to win Grade 1 races on both surfaces. The race left Lava Man unbeaten after four starts this year, including the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in March.

Lava Man led throughout the Whittingham, holding off threats from King's Drama and Sweet Return in the final three furlongs. He paid $3.80 to win in the field of nine, a price that stunned co-owner Jason Wood.

"For us to be 4-5 was crazy," Wood said. "When I saw that, I said, 'Wait a minute. These are Grade 1 horses on the turf.' I thought we'd win, but that's your heart as an owner."

Lava Man has won $2,454,706 in his 31-race career, and $2,356,103 since being claimed for $50,000 in August 2004. Most of it has come in dirt races.

"I think the best race, with his style, is geared toward speed and stamina on the dirt," O'Neill said. "We went into this race with a lot of pressure, wondering if he was up to it. I think he's better than ever."

The long-term objective for Lava Man is the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4. This summer, Lava Man is being pointed for the Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 20.

Californian looking wide open

The absence of Buzzards Bay from Saturday's $250,000 Californian Stakes leaves that prep to the Gold Cup without a standout.

Trainer Ron Ellis is opting to send Buzzards Bay to Saturday's Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Without him, the Californian field has seven probable starters: Dixie Meister, Ice Cole, Melanyhasthepapers, Preachinatthebar, Spellbinder, Super Frolic, and Yes He's a Pistol.

Of that group, Spellbinder, trained by Richard Mandella, has the most prestigious win this year - the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita in February. He subsequently finished seventh in the Santa Anita Handicap and second in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap here on May 13.

Mandella is hoping Spellbinder can end an 0-for-17 run for his stable at this meeting in the Californian, run at 1 1/8 miles.

"I'd run him for $25,000 [claiming] if I could get away with it," he joked Sunday. "My goal is to win something."

Mandella thinks that Spellbinder is better suited to the Californian than the Gold Cup's 1 1/4 miles.

"I'm not sure if 1 1/4 miles is what he's looking for," he said.

The Californian undercard features the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap at 1 1/16 miles, a race that will feature three runners from the Kentucky Derby: Point Determined (who finished ninth), Cause to Believe (13th), and A. P. Warrior (18th). Other probable starters are Arson Squad and Your Tent or Mine.

Arson Squad is the only probable starter without experience around two turns. Trained by Bruce Headley, Arson Squad won the San Pedro Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs in March and was third as the favorite in the Grade 2 Laz Barrera Stakes at seven furlongs on May 20.

World Cup takes hold

Racing was the second most popular sport on the backstretch at Hollywood Park on Sunday morning.

From 9 to 11 a.m., many grooms and hotwalkers could be found huddled around televisions or listening to radios in shed rows closely following the Mexico-Iran World Cup soccer match. In some barns, work came to a standstill during the match.

Three times, a roar could be heard when Mexico scored.

By the time the match ended with Mexico winning 3-1, the backstretch kitchen resembled a sports bar, with most televisions tuned to the match.

Many of the backstretch employees are from Mexico and countries in Central America.

Mexico's next game, against Angola, will be easier for stable employees to follow. It starts Friday at noon, Pacific time, well after training is finished and more than seven hours before first post.