By RICHARD ROSENBLATT, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The trainer of Triple Crown hopeful I'll Have Another doesn't believe New York racing officials are picking on him after the state's racing and wagering board imposed strict rules for horses in the Belmont Stakes.
"I don't think so," Doug O'Neill said Thursday when asked if officials were singling him out because of his history of doping infractions. His recent 45-day suspension won't begin until after the Belmont on June 9 when I'll Have Another tries to become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years.
New rules announced Wednesday call for all Belmont runners to be stabled in the same barn rather than spread out in stables around the track. Also, there will be out-of-competition blood testing and close scrutiny of the horses and humans attending them by board investigators and private security personnel.
There was a scare Thursday morning when I'll Have Another nearly was slammed by a loose horse on the track. The horse dumped his rider and came "screaming up the outside rail" and ran between the rail and I'll Have Another, who was just a few feet from the rail. O'Neill said exercise rider Jonny Garcia told him the horse grazed his boot.
The trainer is OK with the new rules, but said the plan doesn't sound like it's been "real organized," and wishes it would have been implemented sooner. The stakes barn won't open until Wednesday, meaning most of the horses already settled in at the Belmont Park will have to be moved.
It's a situation that doesn't thrill O'Neal and other trainers, but he understands racing has come under scrutiny on many fronts, including drugs.
Trainer Michael Matz, who will send out Union Rags in the Belmont, says he still plans to ship his colt to Belmont on Wednesday. He, too, wondered about the timing of the sweeping changes.
"Do they make this stuff up as they go along?" he asked Wednesday.
O'Neill said racing has "a lot of black eyes all over the country, especially in New York," and officials are just trying to prove to the country that horses are treated well.
I'll Have Another is stabled in a barn near the entrance to the main track after arriving in New York the day after winning the Preakness on May 19.
O'Neill said horses who have yet to arrive may be at an advantage because they can move right into the stakes barn, and won't have to be uprooted from a place where they're already settled.
The New York Times reported Wednesday night that steps taken by the authorities also include a set of specific safeguards directed at O'Neill.
According to a confidential email obtained by the Times, O'Neill's horses cannot in any way be treated "without a board investigator present," and that he should not allow treatment of any of his horses "by mouth or in feed without conferring with a board investigator, who will first log the treatment and discuss the reason(s) for treatment."
The Times also reported O'Neill must provide veterinary records for I'll Have Another and any other horses he may be running over those days at Belmont "no later than 10 a.m." each day after any treatment.
When horses arrive at the barn, they will be required to have a blood test, which will be reviewed that night at the New York State Racing and Wagering Board's drug lab.
Limited numbers of people associated with a horse will be allowed to be in the stakes barn, including the licensed trainer, assistant trainer, veterinarian, groom, hot walker and owners. Those entering a horse's stall, in contact with a horse or working on the horse will have their entry and exit logged. The stakes barn will have 24-hour security.
The board "will ensure that the race is run in a safe and fair manner," board chairman John Sabini said Wednesday.
Equipment, feed, and hay among other items will be searched and checked.
All veterinarians must provide written notice of intended treatment before they perform any treatment, and investigators will monitor all treatment and items used.
The day before the Belmont no vets will be allowed to treat horses without first making an appointment with investigators. On race day, treatment will be allowed only in case of emergency or by agreement with the stewards.