'Milkshake' talk looms over upcoming Belmont Stakes

storapse@aol.comMay 31, 2012 

Did you hear that they are now giving race horses "milkshakes" to make them run faster?

This is no joke. It is a serious matter in the thoroughbred world and it has become quite an issue as I'll Have Another attempts to become the first horse in 34 years to win the fabled Triple Crown.

When a horse wins the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, it and all those with a connection -- owner, trainer, jockey -- come under heavy scrutiny.

That scrutiny has put trainer Doug O'Neill's record squarely in the spotlight and casts a shadow on I'll Have Another's bid to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in the Belmont Stakes a week from Saturday.

According to the Association of Racing Commissioners, O'Neill has been fined or suspended 14 times in 14 years for drug violations.

Just last week, California racing officials suspended O'Neill 45 days because one of his horses, Argenta, was found to have an elevated level of carbon dioxide after a race at Del Mar in 2010. This was the fourth time an O'Neill horse tested above the allowable limits of something called TCO2.

Such high levels are frequently a sign of an illegal practice known as "milkshaking."

According to experts, this is a procedure that involves tubing a mixture of baking soda, water and electrolytes into a horse's stomach four to six hours before a race. The proper mixture combats fatigue and thus enhances performance, especially in longer races.

What is bizarre about the ruling is the California board said that O'Neill did nothing intentionally illegal. Matter of fact, the hearing officer found that there was "no evidence" that Argenta was given a "milkshake."

However, the rules state that a trainer is "ultimately responsible for the condition of a horse, and elevated carbon dioxide levels, regardless of cause, are violations of the rules."

O'Neill will not be subject to any penalties until after July 1, so the trainer will saddle I'll Have Another on June 9 for the Belmont. Let's be clear: there has not even been a hint of any illegalities with this horse.

"I plan on examining and reviewing all of my options following the Belmont Stakes," O'Neill said in a statement last week. Since he has already spent $250,000 in litigating the case, he is expected to appeal in an effort to clear his name.

That may not be enough for some in the horse racing industry. One of its legendary figures, Penny Chenery, the 90-year-old former owner of Triple Crown winner Secretariat, spoke out in an article published by The Atlantic Magazine.

"I think it is regrettable. This is probably a very good horse," she said. "I don't know Paul Reddam (the owner of I'll Have Another) personally, but I think he should be embarrassed that the trainer he has chosen does not have a clean record."

I am sure that Mrs. Chenery would agree that horse racing badly needs a Triple Crown winner. It was Secretariat in 1973 that broke a string of 25 years without a horse accomplishing that feat.

They didn't give horses milkshakes back in those days, but legend has it that Secretariat was given a Hot Fudge Sundae.

AFTER he won the Belmont by 32 lengths.

The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service