In a complicated ruling Thursday, the California Horse Racing Board voted to suspend trainer Doug O'Neill for 45 days and fine him $15,000, but the suspension won't start until after July 1.
O'Neill is preparing Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another for New York's Belmont Stakes on June 9. I'll Have Another will attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years.
The CHRB followed the recommendation of a state hearing officer, who oversaw a seven-day hearing of O'Neill's case. Argenta, a filly O'Neill trained, tested positive for high levels of carbon dioxide in her blood after she finished eighth in a 2010 race at Del Mar.
O'Neill, who maintains his innocence, was cleared of "milkshaking," or force-feeding a horse baking soda and electrolytes in an attempt to slow muscle fatigue. The hearing officer determined that "there was no evidence of any intentional acts on the part of O'Neill in connection with this incident," according to the CHRB.
But under California's racing rules, the trainer is responsible and subject to suspension for any overage or positive tests, even if accidental. An additional 135 days of suspension was stayed for 18 months, providing O'Neill has no further violations.
"I'm gratified that the CHRB found that I did not 'milkshake' a horse or engage in any intentional conduct that would result in an elevated (carbon dioxide) level," O'Neill said. "I plan on examining and reviewing all of my options following the Belmont Stakes, but right now I plan on staying focused on preparing for and winning the Triple Crown."
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