I’ll Have Another’s trainer facing doping charges…again

I’ll Have Another took the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of America’s Triple Crown of races on Saturday. In what was almost a re-run of the Kentucky Derby, race favourite Bodemeister set out to make all, but was caught by I’ll Have Another in the last half furlong.

Victory in the Belmont Stakes in three weeks time will make him the first horse since Affirmed, ridden by Steve Cauthen in 1978, to take the Triple Crown. During that time, 11 horses have taken the first two events, but failed in the third, including one very short priced favourite, 30/100 chance Big Brown, who was pulled up in his Belmont,

Winning the Triple Crown is a major achievement, but should I’ll Have Another go on to become only the twelfth horse to do so, his success will always have a tinge of doubt around its authenticity. The problem lies with his trainer, Doug O’Neill, who has a charge sheet as long as your arm when it comes to playing the rules on medication. He has over a dozen breaches of the rules in four different states, and is currently facing the suspension of his licence for six months after a test two years ago on one of his horses, Argenta, showed up increased levels of tranaxemic acid, evidence of “milkshaking.”

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This is the same activity that led to the suspension of trainer Matt Gingell following his use of the practice in 2009. The drug is a solution of sodium bicarbonate, which it is claimed counters the build up of lactic acid, and so allows a horse to run further or faster before feeling tired. Gingell introduced this via animal feed, it was noted.

In America, milkshaking takes a much less pleasant form, as the solution is pumped directly into a horse’s stomach via a tube inserted through its nose. It use has been relatively widespread in California where O’Neill trains. He believes the action of the authorities is ill judged. “I swear on my kid’s eyes I never milkshaked a horse,” he said nine days before the Preakness. "We had some people in charge of California racing I think didn't like a few of us that were doing well. Anyway, it's all being heard by the courts and I'm very confident everything will be fine."

The topic surfaced again after Saturday’s race, while O'Neill was still in a euphoric state over his first Preakness victory. He brushed off the topic in much the same way I'll Have Another shrugged off his role as underdog to runner-up Bodemeister, saying, "We play by the rules. It's all about the horse. We're going to focus on the horse. I think we've got a horse and a team that, with a little bit of luck, will have an unbelievable time in three weeks."

There’s no suggestion at all that I’ll Have Another has been doped, but the doubts about his trainer persist. A win in the Belmont Stakes next month will give him much to celebrate, but it will also serve as a reminder that American racing remains a murky world when it comes to the use of drugs and performance.

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