Archive for Doug O’Neill

O’Neill’s Suspension Highlights Problems In Sport

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Bill Dwyre of Los Angeles Times…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Doug O’Neill’s suspension shows why little makes sense in horse racing

Horse racing is the only sport where its customers are best served by putting on blinders.

It isn’t always a mess. Just most of the time.

We have gone through a 2014 Triple Crown season where a potentially beautiful story of California Chrome, a beloved trainer and a couple of first-time owners turned beastly at the Belmont Stakes. There, the horse didn’t win and one of the owners lost his common sense.

The Breeders’ Cup is 10 days away. It is a two-day spectacular, held for the third consecutive year at beautiful Santa Anita. The Breeders’ Cup generally overcharges the public, but also generally delivers. This year, two of its biggest stars, Wise Dan and Beholder, are out because of injuries. Assume ticket prices won’t go down.

Now, to top it off, we have Doug O’Neill saga, Part 2.

O’Neill is the Southern California trainer who guided I’ll Have Another to the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2012, then scratched the horse the day before the Belmont because of a tendon injury. He served suspension time after that for a milkshake violation (giving a horse excessive carbon dioxide) in August 2010. He denied guilt.

Now, he is serving more hard time.

Because of the discovery of a drug called Oxazepam in a horse named Wind of Bosphorus at Belmont Park in June 2013, O’Neill will not be able to be the trainer of record for any entrants in the Breeders’ Cup. One of his horses, Goldencents, is defending champion in the Dirt Mile.

When hit with the most recent violation, O’Neill tried to negotiate a suspension that would start after the Breeders’ Cup. But then, the Breeders’ Cup invoked its “convicted trainer rule,” and exiled O’Neill to some sports bar in Santa Monica to watch. No word on whether he will wear prison stripes.

The O’Neill case is just another example of why Lakers exhibition games can make the sports front page and horse racing doesn’t.

What’s the deal? What is the ticket-buying, $2 gambler to think? Is O’Neill Jeckyll, or is he Hyde? A sinner or a saint?

Should we be proud of racing for taking a firm stance, even if it always invokes its punishments months and years after the crime? Does racing use test labs in Antarctica?

Or should we be questioning why, and how, horse racing has made a post office poster boy out of O’Neill, who, by most accounts, and by personal experience, is a decent, hard-working, fun-loving guy?

Like much of what happens in racing, with its alphabet soup governing boards (CHRB, TOC, CTT, etc., in California alone), little is clear and little makes sense.

O’Neill’s 2010 violation was from a horse named Argenta, who was lucky to make it around the track. Argenta, off at 20-1, finished sixth of eight horses in that race. Argenta didn’t need to be milkshaked, he needed rocket boosters.

In the 2013 violation in New York, Wind of Bosphorus was transferred to three different stalls in the days before the gelding ran. O’Neill, who wasn’t in New York when the horse ran, said he had to look up Oxazepam and learned it was mostly used by people with irritable bowel syndrome or by recovering alcoholics.

It is also used as a calming medication, and that might help a horse. Why would it be on racing’s Class-2 banned list if it had no enhancement qualities?

Fans who want to care about racing, who want to go to the track and put down a few bucks without having to be chemists or conspiracy theorists, will soon just start throwing up their hands and finding a water polo game.

O’Neill is the kind of person with whom you want to have dinner — funny, smart, charming. He spent the entire 2012 Triple Crown season answering, with incredible patience and good humor, the same media questions, each phrased slightly different but all basically the same query: “Why do you cheat?”

Before that 2012 Belmont, and before he scratched I’ll Have Another, the New York Racing Assn. ordered all Belmont Stakes horses stabled in a detention barn. At whom do you suppose that was aimed?

In the midst of all this, O’Neill allowed himself to be roasted at a charity event. One roaster, Tim Conway Jr., delivered the classic blow: “Most horses, when they are done, go out to pasture. Doug’s go to the Betty Ford Center.”

Would a bad guy, a cheater, smile through all this? Is he the Lance Armstrong of horse racing or a wronged Peyton Manning? Or is he the greatest con artist since Paul Newman in “The Sting.”

One race official summed it up thusly: “I love Doug O’Neill, but how many times can you say the dog ate the homework?”

According to a 2011 article in HBPA.com, the website for the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Assn., thoroughbred racing in the U.S. had 38 jurisdictions, each with its regulatory agency. There are 18 racing test labs, six accredited. Is one of those that Antarctica lab that takes six months to find a test tube?

In essence, horse racing in the U.S. is a sport in which everybody is in charge. And nobody. You can laugh about the travails of Roger Goodell or Bud Selig, but at least you know at whom to laugh.

Hate Doug O’Neill or feel sorry for him. Just don’t try to figure out his sport. Don’t question why they never penalize the vets, why there aren’t security cameras in every stall, why every major decision takes 10 months and 80 meetings and then can be negotiated.

Don’t question why a suspended O’Neill is allowed to work out a deal with his assistant, Leandro Mora, to share in any Breeders’ Cup winnings.

Just put on your blinders and come on out.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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Security Added To Long List of Issues In Racing That Beg For Uniformity

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Eric Mitchell of Bloodhorse.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Five reasons why the effort to ban Lasix has stalled

Enhanced security measures for both the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) and Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) were announced and implemented three days prior to these important Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) prep races.

Santa Anita extended its regular six-hour surveillance period to 72 hours just for the eight horses entered in its marquee race April 6. Surveillance meant having security guards maintain a log of who goes in and out of the barns and to collect the syringes used for any medications administered.

New York also began its monitoring of the 10 horses entered in the Wood Memorial April 3 and took blood samples for out-of-competition drug testing.

“NYRA’s mission statement, ‘meeting the highest standards in Thoroughbred racing and equine safety,’ is exemplified by these additional steps for one of our most important stakes,” said David Skorton, chairman of the recently created New York Racing Association Reorganization Board.

Increased security around high-profile stakes races is certainly admirable, but this kind of one-off ramping up of security begs the question—is racing’s day-to-day security inadequate?

And if the extra security ensures the highest standard for biggest races, why not apply it at least to the other stakes races on the undercards. Aqueduct ran four other graded stakes (grade I Carter Handicap, grade II Ruffian Handicap, grade II Gazelle Stakes, and the grade III Bay Shore Stakes) with a total of 28 horses entered. Santa Anita ran three graded stakes (grade I Santa Anita Oaks, grade II Potrero Grande Stakes, and the grade III Providencia Stakes) and one ungraded stakes, the Thunder Road Stakes, for which 31 horses had been entered. None of the extra security covered any of these horses.

Security at racetracks has simply been too reactionary. NYRA set up a detention barn system in 2005 on the heels of a case involving trainer Greg Martin and milkshaking (tubing horses with a bicarbonate solution to reduce fatigue during a race).
“We think it is an important step in improving the integrity of racing,” said NYRA’s then-president Charlie Hayward.

The detention barn system lasted until 2010 when NYRA announced the barn would be replaced by an in-house drug testing program that utilized state-of-the-art science, technology, and procedural processes. It was reported at the time that NYRA’s new robust testing regimen would be accompanied by equally robust mandatory penalties for trainers whose horses tested positive for illegal drugs.

That is until May 24, 2012, when the California Horse Racing Board handed trainer Doug O’Neill a conditional 45-day suspension for milkshaking. Less than two weeks later NYRA announced it was implementing a new set of security protocols for horses entered in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), which included O’Neill’s Triple Crown title hopeful I’ll Have Another. All Belmont entries had to stable in a special “stakes barn” where they would be more closely monitored than any other horses on the expansive Belmont Park backside.

Trainer Michael Matz said it best when the stakes barn had been announced and disrupted the training and shipping schedule for his Belmont contender and eventual winner Union Rags: “…what I’m disappointed in most is the lack of uniformity. What’s good for New York should be good for Maryland, and what’s good for Maryland should be good for Kentucky.”

Security at a racetrack is essential, but it should not be influenced so easily by individual cases or focus only on individual races. If integrity is the goal, then forget 72 hours of security versus six hours. Instead the focus should be on implementing a consistent, reliable system for all tracks, all horses, and all races 365 days a year.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Despite Reports, I’ll Have Another’s Treatment Proper

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Bill Finley of ESPN…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

What’s The Big Deal?

Trainer Doug O’Neill has taken his lumps, many of them deserved. And owner Paul Reddam has taken his lumps for employing O’Neill. But recent news reports about their handling of I’ll Have Another during his run at the Triple Crown and how they dealt with the colt’s problems with arthritis shed new light on the pair. This is obviously not a win-at-all-costs owner-trainer team but one that in this instance played by the rules and in the end did the right thing by their horse.

I’ll Have Another retired at Belmont Park.

That probably wasn’t the intent of a spate of stories that came out earlier in the week that pointed fingers at O’Neill, Reddam and the sport in general because veterinary records showed that I’ll Have Another was x-rayed after his win in the Preakness and the x-rays revealed that the colt had osteoarthritis. He was treated with painkillers and a synthetic joint fluid. At first keeping a tight lid on the situation, O’Neill and Reddam could have been more transparent. But, eventually and apparently, they gave up on trying to get the horse right and announced that he had been withdrawn from the Belmont because of “tendonitis” and retired.

Dr. Larry Bramlage, one of the most respected equine veterinarians in America, has read the stories and studied the veterinary reports and has come to the same conclusion most people in racing have — this is much ado about nothing.

“I would guess that with every horses over the last 34 years that won the first two legs of the Triple Crown they were x-rayed after the Preakness,” Bramlage said. “That’s routine care. Further, I bet Michael Phelps got done over with a fine-toothed comb after he qualified for the Olympics in the trials. Probably you have to put air coolers on those MRI machines down at the Olympic training center because they’re looking for any little, bump, bruise, anything they need to be aware of when those athletes are training.”

On the fact that I’ll Have Another had osteoarthritis, Bramlage said: “He had only run four days before they took the x-ray and won the second leg of the Triple Crown, so how can they allege he had been having serious problems all along? They must not have been too serious. How unusual is it to have this problem? It’s not unusual at all. Dr. [Jim] Hunt [who treated I’ll Have Another] said it was a small localized place. Osteoarthritis is a very general term.”

The story of I’ll Have Another sounds a lot like Shaquille O’Neil’s battle with arthritis in a toe. Then with the Lakers, he played through the injury thanks in part to a painkiller called Indocin. When it became more than he could bear, he underwent surgery and missed the beginning of the 2002-2003 season. No harm, no foul.

If some are to be believed, the backstretches of America’s racetrack are shadowy, nefarious places where outlaw trainers and vets run amok. There very may well be available illegal concoctions that O’Neill could have used that would have had I’ll Another feeling no pain by Belmont Day, but those sorts of drugs never entered into the picture. Everything given to the horse to deal with his ailment was legal.

With attempts to manage the arthritis apparently not working to their satisfaction, O’Neill and Reddam had a choice to make. They could have run I’ll Have Another in the Belmont, taken their shot at racing immortality, a $1 million purse and a victory that would have added many millions more onto his stud value.

“I think some people would have chosen to run him,” Bramlage said.

But it wouldn’t have been the right thing do and O’Neill and Reddam knew it.

“I don’t think he would have suffered any sort of catastrophic injury had they run him,” Bramlage said. “I do think the injury would have gotten worse and I think it would have affected his performance. Had it come out that he ran with an injury that would have been so much worse than this on so many different levels.”

The horse racing industry has been bombarded with negative publicity over the last several months, and some of it has been fair. There are far too many drugs, legal and illegal, in the sport and the cheaters are rarely handed anything more than ineffective and insubstantial penalties. Having been suspended because some of his horses tested positive for elevated carbon dioxide levels, often the result of a trainer using an illegal potion known as a milkshake, O’Neill has been a part of the problem.

Here, though, he didn’t cheat, didn’t use anything illegal. He dealt as best he could with a problem and when he saw that it had turned into a serious concern he looked out for his horse and didn’t risk putting him in any danger by running in the Belmont.

Nothing bad happened here. Nothing at all.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Is The Triple Crown Harder Than Ever To Win???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Alice Wincze of Lexington Herald-Leader…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Why winning the Triple Crown is harder than ever

The fervor of the question increases with every passing year. And as the years turn into decades — three now and counting — the subject gets dissected so exhaustively that even those deemed experts abandon trying to come up with one concrete answer.

I’ll Have Another’s victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes have gathered the racing world to its latest roundtable discussion over why it has been 34 years since a horse has proven capable of capturing the three-race, five-week gauntlet that is the American Triple Crown.

Though just 11 legends have accomplished the feat, the current drought has long since passed the previous record 25-year gap between Citation’s sweep in 1948 and Secretariat in 1973.

The one thought most agree upon is if I’ll Have Another wins the Triple Crown, he’ll have done so in an era unlike that of any of his predecessors.

To merely say it takes a special horse to win the Triple Crown is too simple a way of explaining why a generation of fans exist who have never witnessed a sweep. Some of the greatest horses of our time, most notably Spectacular Bid (1979), Alysheba (1987) and Sunday Silence (1989), made it to this very point only to be tripped up by various factors during their 11/2-mile journeys around the Belmont oval.

For the majority of the 11 horses that have failed to finish the job since Affirmed did so in 1978, their attempts have come at a time when the racing landscape is drastically different than it was for the 11 who succeeded.

This is not your grandfather’s racing. As the Thoroughbred breed has changed — for better or worse — so too have training styles and the attitude within the sport.

“I think it has (become harder to win) because of the reasons for which we breed horses,” said Penny Chenery, owner of Secretariat. “Back in the ’70s we were still breeding horses to race them, and so much of the industry now is concentrated on sales. So you breed a good-looking, early speed horse who isn’t equipped to go a mile and a half, or to run three hard races in five weeks.

“We just have a different set of goals with the horses we breed now.”

The Triple Crown races have not changed since the Thoroughbred Racing Association formally recognized the three-race series in 1950. The variables needed to notch victories in the trio, though, have grown to titanic proportions

Size matters

Of the 11 Triple Crown winners, only the great War Admiral in 1937 began his run by defeating 19 others in the Kentucky Derby.

With the first leg now the most famous race in the sport and long-shot winners showing a Derby victor can come from anywhere, 19- and 20-horse fields have become the norm in the past decade, increasing the odds that even the most talented horse of a generation could be derailed by a troubled trip.

Though field sizes in general have declined over the years, the Triple Crown races regularly hit their starting-gate limits.

Citation only had to beat 15 total horses en route to his coronation. Secretariat defeated 21 others during his Triple Crown run. Seattle Slew and Affirmed faced 29 and 20 total rivals, respectively.

I’ll Have Another took on 19 in the Derby, 10 in the Preakness and could encounter nine more foes in the Belmont

“It’s not too tough to win the Triple Crown. It’s just these fields are always full fields and it’s all about getting a good trip,” said Graham Motion, trainer of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. “There is always going to be a horse in the Derby that’s not going to get a good trip and that’s what’s going to make it so hard to have a Triple Crown winner.”

How one even gets a horse ready for the Triple Crown races is a different animal than it was in the ’70s.

First, there is the trend of trainers wanting to allow more time between starts in hopes of avoiding the dreaded “bounce” factor off of big efforts. However, with the 20-horse Derby field being determined in part by graded stakes earnings since 1986, some say they now have to ask more of their prospects earlier in order to secure the crucial money needed.

“It is not a three-race series anymore, it’s more like a five-race series,” said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, winner of 13 Triple Crown races. “In the ’50s or ’60s, you could take a soft approach and train your horse and come May say, ‘I think he’s good enough’ and run him in the Derby against 10 or 12 horses. Now you cannot do that.

“You’ve got to say, ‘We better run good in the Rebel Stakes, the Arkansas Derby, the Fountain of Youth.’ We better go to the well because the earnings are so imperative for us to get in.”

While the race for graded earnings has played a role, it is the monetary action brought on by the auction arena that has been arguably the biggest factor in the Triple Crown drought.

Money changes everything

Where once homebreds ruled the classics, the rise of the commercial marketplace in the past 30 years has prompted breeders to produce a different type of athlete than previously demanded.

With deep-pocketed buyers like Robert Sangster, Coolmore, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum arriving on the scene in the 1980s, wild bidding wars erupted that produced seven- and eight-figure yearlings as well as broodmare prospects.

Since buyers need to get as much return as possible on such lofty investments, precocious babies that could inspire a strong following in the breeding shed went to the top of buyers’ wish lists, regardless if they had classic ability.

“There might be a tendency to try and breed a powerful speedy horse as opposed to one that looks like it could run a distance of ground. But you have to understand that commercial breeders are breeding what they think they can sell,” said bloodstock adviser Ric Waldman, who managed the career of leading sire Storm Cat. “And I think the end user has wanted a speedy horse.

“It’s not like we don’t want to breed Derby winners, everybody wants a Derby winner. But it goes back to the type of horse we think will make a good stud horse. And the kind of horse we think will make a good stud horse has typically been one that has shown speed and precocity.”

In trying to breed fast, pretty horses, some argue the durability of the modern Thoroughbred has been sacrificed along with the stamina. Today’s runners might not be the iron horses of the past, but part of the issue behind their perceived fragility may be just that — perception.

“I cannot believe how well these horses handle the comeback (during the Triple Crown),” Motion said. “Animal Kingdom went into the Preakness great, he went into the Belmont great and I never could have predicted that having never done it before. I don’t think we give these horses enough credit for how durable they are.”

Given the way the sport has changed, some like Lukas have said the Triple Crown should change with it, both in terms of the races’ distances and spacing.

If I’ll Have Another ends up winning this challenge, he’ll not only have racing’s greatest achievement on his résumé, he’ll have overcome a new set of obstacles in doing so.

“It shouldn’t be easy,” Waldman said. “While everyone is hoping we have a Triple Crown winner, the fact there hasn’t been one in such a long period of time underscores how difficult it is. You add in the component that maybe we’re changing the breed over this period of time and that compounds the difficulty in trying to achieve it.”

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Is I’ll Have Another’s Trainer a Representation of What is Wrong With Racing????

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Why I’m Not Rooting For ‘I’ll Have Another’ In the Preakness

QUARTER POLE

For want of a nail the shoe was lost
For want of a shoe the horse was lost
For want of a horse the rider was lost
For want of a rider the battle was lost
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
-English Proverb

As much as I would like to again see a Triple Crown winner in Thoroughbred racing, as much as I think the sport could so use a boost these dark days, I will not be rooting for I’ll Have Another this Saturday afternoon in the 137th Preakness Stakes at Maryland’s Pimlico Race Course. And I’d like to tell you why.

I have nothing against the horse, of course. He ran a great Kentucky Derby two weeks ago and was a worthy winner over the breathlessly game Bodemeister. And I have nothing, either, against I’ll Have Another’s jockey, Mario Gutierrez, whose rags-to-riches story is one of the best of the year. If they win again, and have a chance for a Triple Crown in three weeks at Belmont Park in New York, here’s hoping that Gutierrez is every bit as much a part of the story as his horse.

But I’m not rooting for I’ll Have Another because I am not a fan of trainers whose drug suspensions are endlessly stayed. I am not a fan of track officials and state regulators who slap wrists. I am not a fan of owners who tolerate it. And I am not a fan of an industry that allows all of this to occur and then turns to the betting public and its fans says “we are doing what we can about racing integrity.” No, sir. Not for me. I’ll be rooting for another horse and hoping, as always, that they all make it back home safe to the barn.

HALF-MILE POLE

Doug O’Neill trains the Derby winner. I had never heard of him before this year’s stakes season but I thought he was pitch-perfect on Derby Day itself. The first I heard of his California record was after the Derby. I just stumbled across the news by chance at Ray Paulick’s website, PaulickReport, which has been reporting on the story for years (here’s a good piece from 2010). Within days of the Derby, the story had migrated from inside the industry to the mainstream media. Joe Drape and Walt Bogdanich at the New York Times, with another trenchant piece, wrote this last Thursday as their lede:

Last summer, the trainer Doug O’Neill was formally sanctioned after one of his racehorses at Hollywood Park in California tested positive for illegal drugs. A year before, in 2010, O’Neill was punished for administering an illegal performance-enhancing concoction to a horse he ran in the prestigious Illinois Derby — the third time he had been accused of giving a horse what is known as a milkshake. Four months later, he was accused again of giving a milkshake to a horse in California.

Over 14 years and in four different states, O’Neill received more than a dozen violations for giving his horses improper drugs. O’Neill’s horses also have had a tendency to break down. According to an analysis by The New York Times, the horses he trains break down or show signs of injury at more than twice the rate of the national average.

The point I want to make here is a relatively small one in the context of what this means. Whether O’Neill is guilty or not of the pending violation, there is no excuse for these sorts of suspensions to linger unresolved for years. We are told that O’Neill faces a possible 180-day suspension–for a test that occurred in August 2010. His answer? “I swear on my kids’ eyes i never milkshaked a horse,” O’Neill said last week. Because regulators and judges in California couldn’t resolve the case sooner, a local problem became an international one in the middle of racing’s Triple Crown. For the want of a nail…

Can you imagine any professional sport or enterprise tolerating such a delay between the announcement of an offense and the disposition of one? There is an entire class of trainers, in both Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing, whose members go about their daily jobs under suspended sentences–in legal limbo but free to make a living, earn more purse money, and create the kind of gash marks on the sport that O’Neill’s case has created over the past two weeks.
THREE-QUARTER POLE

Trainer gets suspended for doping horse. Trainer appeals suspension. Trainer gets stay of suspension pending appeal. Trainer and lawyer undertake administrative hearing. Regulators take their time to rule. Ruling gets appealed to state court. Hearing is held. Judge takes her time to rule. This happens every day in North American horse racing and it’s what is happening in the O’Neill case. If he is guilty, he should long ago have been forced to serve his punishment. If he is not, because of California’s testing protocols, then that system itself should long ago have been fixed.

Perhaps the best way to describe this dynamic is to think of it as one giant industry-sanctioned bail/bond program. The suspects get to go on with their lives while evidence of their alleged crime is debated languidly. The logic is both clear and perverse. Even though the fines are miniscule compared to the purse money, trainers like O’Neill won’t accept punishment until their rights are fully adjudicated. It takes forever for those rights to be adjudicated under the current system. And because it takes so long, regulators and judges are loathe to preclude suspects from earning a living in the meantime.

Know what horse racing needs? It needs its own Drug Court–an independent body which can quickly adjudicate doping disputes. It needs an enforcement mechanism by which the current model–where overburdened, understaffed regulators hand off trainer doping cases to overburdened, understaffed state judges–gives way to something faster and stronger. A trainer wants to appeal a suspension? Fine. The industry should guarantee that trainer a right to a “speedy” disposition. In return, the industry should demand the trainer’s purse money be held in escrow pending the outcome.

MILE POLE

The O’Neill story indeed puts horse racing into a terrible bind. On the one hand, the industry surely wants to see “I’ll Have Another” win the Preakness to keep alive a Triple Crown hope for the year (the last horse to win was Affirmed in 1978). But on the other hand the industry surely understands that the hotter the spotlight shines on O’Neill the more it will expose the inherent contradictions and consistent failures of the sport’s drug enforcement policies and priorities.

The idea that a Triple Crown-winner trainer could shortly thereafter be suspended from racing for 180 days is even worse than is the idea that The Times is doing stories in mid-May about horse doping. It will be interesting to see, therefore, how NBC handles the O’Neill story when it covers the big race on Saturday. Surely the network cannot bury the controversy. Nor can it highlight it. But wouldn’t it be a great gift to the sport if the broadcast team were to shine a light on racing’s inability to timely convict or exonerate its suspected cheaters? Surely Costas and company would have no dearth of interviewees.

The scandal here, if there is one, isn’t just that a Derby-winning trainer has a mixed record and current legal headaches. The scandal here is that the industry has treated O’Neill no differently than thousands of other suspected trainers, jockeys and drivers over the past decades. I understand the presumption of innocence as much as the next fellow. But there is a difference between protecting that presumption and living up to the responsibility that racing participants have toward one another–and toward the public. The sooner the industry bridges this gulf, the stronger it will be.

THE FINAL FURLONG

Oh, yes. The race! I like to watch the Preakness (All Hail Kegasus!) more than the Derby itself because there are fewer horses and thus fewer chances for accidents or bad racing luck. The luckiest Derby winners often are exposed in the Preakness. This year, only 11 horses entered the second-leg of the Triple Crown. Bodemeister is back, as a somewhat surprising morning-line favorite, and so is my sentimental Derby pick, Creative Cause, whose 71-year-old trainer Michael Harrington just saddled his first-ever Derby entry.

And so is Went The Day Well. Here’s how Drape and Bogdanich, in their Times piece, compared O’Neill’s record with the record of Went The Day Well’s trainer, Graham Motion:

Nationally, thoroughbred horses break down or show signs of injury at a rate of 5.1 per thousand starts, according to the Times’s analysis of more than 150,000 races over the past three years. In more than 2,300 starts, horses trained by O’Neill show a breakdown or injury frequency more than double that rate, at 12.0 per thousand starts.

“It’s a horrible statistic to be associated with,” O’Neill said.

In comparison, horses in the care of Motion — one of the trainers without a single drug violation and who will race Went the Day Well in the Preakness Stakes next Saturday — have started nearly 1,900 races and broken down or showed signs of injury in just 0.5 per thousand start

All of a sudden, a Triple Crown winner this year doesn’t seem that great, does it? I didn’t think so.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?