Horse Health

Why is O’Neill Still Even Allowed in Horse Racing?

by Laura Allen of Animal Law Coalition

“he has multiple violations across several states, 25 since 2005”

Horse trainer Doug O’Neill was said to be “ecstatic” over the wins at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness by his horse, I’ll Have Another.  He is proud of his racing record. The racing world now looks to the remaining Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes on June 9.  Will there be a Triple Crown winner this year, the first since 1978?

A more pressing question should be why is O’Neill even allowed to participate in racing? Take a look at his other record, the one that shows he has multiple violations across several states, 25 since 2005, particularly for doping his horses with drugs, steroids or other substances that mask injuries and increase speed. –

O’Neill was just suspended in California for 45 days and given a $15,000 fine for milk shaking a horse in 2010.  This means he is accused of illegally giving a horse a mixture of bicarbonate soda, electrolytes and sugar with the idea of enhancing performance by reducing fatigue.  A blood test on his horse, Argenta, at the August 25, 2010 race at Del Mar revealed elevated levels of TCO2, a measure of carbon dioxide in a horse’s bloodstream, a sign of milkshaking. O”Neill has previously been fined for milkshaking but he denies ever doing it, telling AP reporter David Ginsburg, “everything will be fine…. I’m very confident everything will be dropped.”  For its part, the California Horse Racing Board delayed the suspension until after the Belmont Stakes. Again, the race, the win, the money, are more important than the safety of the horses.

And, O’Neill will appeal the penalty and could obtain a stay during the appeal that would allow him to continue training, as he says, possibly until he retires. He is paying an attorney to make sure that happens.

O’Neill has reason to be confident that the labyrinth of state racing commissions, controlled by the industry, will never stop him from racing no matter how many times he may violate restrictions on drugs and other substances given to horses. Attorneys for violators have been very successful in delaying hearings and appeals so that there is virtually no disruption to their racing careers.

Also, look at trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr., for example. He was suspended Oct. 12, 2011 by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board for ten years from racing in New York. The last violation involved illegally giving butorphanol, a pain killer, to a horse at Aqueduct in New York. Syringes containing Xylazine, another painkiller and tranquilizer, were found in his possession. His violations over the years had resulted in 64 sanctions in 9 states at 50 racetracks.

Yet, Dutrow is currently working in racing in New York, training horses. He has appealed his suspension. Even if the suspension eventually goes into effect, nothing would stop Dutrow from training at tracks in other states.

Interstate Horse Racing Improvement Act 

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) have introduced H.R. 1733/S.B. 886, the Interstate Horse Racing Improvement Act of 2011 that would change that. The bill amends the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978, 15 U.S.C. 3001 et seq. to prohibit anyone from entering a horse in a race where there is betting on the race if the horse is under the influence of a performance-enhancing drug. There is a 3 strikes you’re out penalty: A first violation would mean a $5,000 civil fine and a  minimum 6 months suspension from racing where there is interstate offtrack betting; a second violation would mean a $20,000 civil fine and a suspension of at least 1 year; and a 3rd violation would mean a $50,000 civil fine and a permanent ban from horseracing where there is interstate offtrack betting.

The suspension or permanent ban would mean the violator could not participate in any activities including as a spectator at a race where there is interstate offtrack betting.

It would not matter that the violations were at different tracks or in different states. Each violation regardless of where it occurred would count towards the permanent ban.

Horses given performance enhancing drugs would also be ineligible to race for at least 6 months on a first offense, a minimum of 1 year for a second violation and at least 2 years for each subsequent violation.

A violation would also be considered an unfair or deceptive trade practice, and the FTC would have enforcement authority unless there was an agreement for a state or host racing commission to handle that. Even then, the FTC could still step in and enforce these provisions if the host racing commission does not adequately do so. The FTC would also monitor and handle enforcement with respect to violations occurring in multiple states and in connection with non-profits.

The bill further creates a private right of action. Organizations or individuals with standing could bring an action for injunction or other relief to enforce these provisions and even obtain damages or restitution and attorney’s fees.

Industry “Regulations” 

In the last few years the alphabet soup horse racing organizations, National Thoroughbred Association (NTRA), the Jockey Club, the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC), have claimed they can “regulate” doping in the industry. They have “model rules” which, of course, are voluntary and unenforceable.

What is more, the ARCI model rules take a very limited view of “horse doping”. ARCI claimed in a Sep. 1, 2011 report, “DRUGS IN U.S. RACING – 2010 THE FACTS that there were only 47 cases of samples tested in 2010 that could qualify for the term “horse doping.”

Only the “non-therapeutic” use of anabolic steroids is prohibited, for example.  Violations are listed on the RMTC Recent Rulings website at

Use of what the DEA classifies as Schedule III drugs are not counted as doping under the industry’s “model” rules.  This would include anabolic steroids like nandrolone and the drug clenbuterol.  ARCI may also exclude “milk shaking” (TCO2) violations!

The ARCI model rules permit race day Lasix, a diuretic almost universally given to horses to eliminate water weight. Bute, a painkiller, is administered like aspirin. Flunxin, a popular Non-Steroid Anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) is also used to mask injuries. The list goes on. (Some like Lasix or ACE, an anti-anxiety medication, mean big money as well for the veterinarians and manufacturers.)

On top of that, ARCI rules don’t count as doping the “overages” of “therapeutic medication” that are Schedule III and IV drugs.  It’s a simple matter to call a drug “therapeutic” and then administer more than prescribed. And it would not be illegal under the industry’s vision of regulating abuse of horses with drugs.

It should be noted that state drug testing practices are as notoriously ineffective as their penalties.  The New York Times found, for example, that New Mexico Racing Commission has found no bute positives recently. NMRC admitted the Commission has not been testing for bute, a commonly used painkiller, because of a limited budget.  What else might not be currently tested for?

The use of drugs and steroids to force horses to run with even severe injuries and push them to the point of dehydration and collapse is epidemic.- and virtually unregulated.

Congress has substantial power to demand changes that will truly protect the horses and the wagering public who believe each race consists of sound horses and an equal field.  After all, horse racing is about gambling dollars, and it is Congress that has permitted simulcast betting across state lines pursuant to the Interstate Horse Racing Act, 15 U.S.C. §3001 et seq. And that has made horse racing a $40 billion a year industry. Congress has also exempted online gambling for real money on horse racing from restrictions on online gambling under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), 31 U.S.C.§§5361-5367.

These are substantial giveaways to an industry. If we plan to continue to support horse racing in this way, then we should make sure this industry is not a front for animal cruelty, a fraud on the betting public who have no idea the extent of drugs used to mask injuries and increase speed.  Please support the Interstate Horse Racing Improvement Act of 2011, H.R. 1733/S.B. 886.

Click (HERE) to visit Animal Law Coalition and to Comment

13 replies »

  1. It’s always about the money! Take away the $$ incentives and, hopefully, these individuals will be put out of business. As old as the tradition is, and as lovely as it might seem, horse racing is terribly bad in so many ways.


    • dont all horses run drugged ?? they all run on the maximum allowable bute, (pain Killers). thats why horses fly appart on the race track every day. (break down). horse racing is not the only offender, ya know. any disapline where competion to win all use drugs.


  2. this country’s lawmakers really need to buckle down and get these protections in place for the horses AND the jockeys. it;s sad and maddening when a youngster breaks down and gets sent to slaughter, but it is equally bad when a jockey is disabled or killed. shame on the owners and trainers that engage in doping. barbaric. they should also be charged with reckless endangerment of both racers~horse AND jockey.


  3. When I was galloping Thoroughbred racehorses in training back in the early-mid-’70’s when I was 14/15 years old at a training/breeding/rehab farm, until that time, I really wanted to be a jockey. After just 3 or 4 months of galloping, I KNEW I NEVER wanted any involvement with the back-stretch at a racetrack. Even at Holloywood Park race track, so not some bush track in a rural area, the backstretch was dirty, scummy, drugs and alcohol was easily available, I was propositioned (I was only 14!), I saw horses with every imaginable vice from being confined for 23 hours a day in a boxstall no larger than 12′ x 12′, etc. It was God-awful and far from the box seats many owners sit in to watch their horses run. And although the training farm was much, much better than the racetrack, the injuries I saw on horses that were sent to us for rehab were often horrendous (back in the days when horses were routinely “pin fired), they were permanent, and if the owner didn’t want to keep the horse for breeding, the horses disappeared out the gate in the horse trailer and I never saw them again (most likely to the kill sale in El Monte). Working at the training farm and going to the backstretch at the track for sales (in the Pavilion at Hollywood Park) really burst my little bubble about the horse racing industry, its nastiness behind the glitz of the actual racing and it was really disappointing. On the flip side however is everything I learned about how race horses are “trained”, how they are handled, their different mentalities, etc. I’ve gone on to rehab thousands of Thoroughbreds off-the-track into successful careers in hunters/ dressage/pleasure riding/trail horses, and I’ve taught hundreds of students how to understand a TB that’s been raced and learn to understand what we needed to do to bond with them. I also learned A LOT about equine management at the farm, handling breeding stallions and broodmares, working with youngsters, holding the horses for the vet and the farrier, cleaning a multitude of stalls, paddocks, pastures (lol), the different types of bridles and bits, etc. Because of my experiences at the training farm and at the track, I knew things such as the horse probably being “ear twitched” on their left ear repeatedly to restrain them and teaching them not to be ear shy anymore, how to distract them from “weaving” and “stall walking” and other vices, I understood why some were so angry and aggressive and I helped them become horses that were inquisitive, curious and gentle…… And in teaching them that everything would be O.K., they taught me how to be patient, understanding, less angry (I was very angry in my teen years into my 20’s), less stressed, how to problem solve in training without “quick fixes” and all kinds of other things.
    Every, single horse that I helped, helped me right back in becoming a better person and I owe a debt of gratitude to all of them that I have had the pleasure of being around through the years, teaching and learning together. I have 5 off-track Thoroughbreds at our sanctuary right now that continue to humble me with their ability to survive “the racetrack” and it keeps me going knowing they’ve been through far more than I have and managed to survive.
    No horse deserves to be treated badly, no horse deserves to be drugged in order to perform, and NO “trainer”, even a potential Triple Crown winning trainer, should ever be allowed to get away with using, abusing, drugging, and also throwing away horses at kill sales or to kill brokers/buyers that often is giving their life just for the sake of humans having entertainment, making money, and gaining glory and power in this dirty industry. It needs to stop, and hopefully the enlightenment is happening where civilized people will NOT allow this to happen much longer. I can only hope and pray……….


    • I have heard comments similar to these from a number of sources. Thank you for adding your personal and informed perspective about this subject. This bill should be passed immediately on a bipartisan basis.

      There is no defense for this.

      One of my first jobs was in a rehab facility that treated severely disabled people. I saw enough young male quadriplegics, paraplegics, and brain injured to have a very clear understanding about what the costs of these catastrophic injuries represent to individuals, their families, their communities, and to our society in general are. Most people will never see what I saw, or hear the stories I used to hear. I worked in recreational/adaptive p.e. therapy at the time.

      Becoming a jockey, or an exercise rider requires some acceptance of risk, but that acceptance should not have to include riding a thousand pounds of galloping flesh racing down the back stretch with its forelegs essentially scotch taped together through the use of pain killing drugs. That joint and those tendons are going to rupture, and the adrenaline of competition is the most likely and the most dangerous time.

      We are here because of our concern for horses, but we cannot, nor should Congress, ignore the terrible tole the use of these drugs in race horses can wreck on human lives. Imagine that for the rest of your life, you have to ask someone to scratch the itch on your nose or to roll you over in bed. Christopher Reeve did not die from his broken neck (thanks to modern trauma medicine). He died from a skin infection (bed sore) best avoided from timely turning, sheepskin, early discovery, and medication. The cost to human life and to our health care resources from head and spinal injuries to even one person is staggering.


  4. I’ll Have Another’s rt frt leg didn’t look right in the Preakness. Hoping I was being paranoid. Poor horse, even if he wins he loses. Scumbags like O’neill need to be on animal abuser registry like pedophiles.


  5. Hopefully, I’ll Have Another, will do his best, & win if he’s meant to win, by his own accord, because he’s just that good Or, if he doesn’t win, that he’ll at least come home safe & sound. Not because of someone cheating & drugging him. Hopefully, this man, has been & will continue to be honest & fair, especially to this beautiful, trusting horse, & to all who watch this possibly historic race. I pray that God will keep all the horses & their jockeys safe from any harm.


  6. Ive said before that I won’t comment on racing in the states since the rules down there are very different than Canada (I will however say the US rules need serious changes, for instance what idiot thought it was ok to let horses run on bute???) I do need to comment on that statement about Lasix however. Lasix is not used to remove water weight, taking the horses water away does that on its own just fine. I’ve heard of people using lasix to do that, but frankly I think they’re idiots. The purpose of lasix is to prevent exercise induced pulmonary hemmorage or EIPH. When a horse that is a “bleeder” maintains a high speed for prolonged periods if time, the tiny little blood vessels in the lungs can burst from the pressure. Lasix dehydrates the horse which results in lower blood pressure which prevents the horse from bleeding. This is a very good article about how lasix works and the pro’s/con’s and controversy surrounding it.

    O’neils suspension for milk shaking doest start until after the Preakness. Yes it sucks that O’neil is being granted leeway, HOWEVER it is not fair to the horse, the owners, the general/betting public and basically everyone other than O’neil to force a trainer change on a horse who’s one race away from winning the triple crown. O’neil obviously knows how to get that horse to run, I can tell you that little shit Mario Gueitterez probably doesn’t help him much (ok now that opinion might be kind of personal, but dont let his sweet little smile and humble attitude he puts on for the cameras fool you, that guy is one ignorant prick) Changing trainers when the horse is running good is very very risky and forcing a change at this point would be madness. Again, I don’t agree that a cheater should be given leniancy and allowed to reap the benefits of winning the triple crown, BUT preventing him from doing so would just screw the horse, the owners and the public.


  7. The media has treated O’Neil as a “darling” with the charming little story of “I’ll have another….cookie.” Maybe it could be “I’ll have another milkshake.”

    It would be nice if NBC took some time out of its broadcast to present some facts.

    I think the Times story mentioned that almost all of the top 20 trainers have had some charges and convictions. i noticed that Bodiemeister’s trainer never really gave O’Neill or I’ll Have Another” their due. I bet they all know who is doing what with which horses, but their are a lot of incentives for them to keep their mouths closed. However, since D. Wayne Lukas had such a close call with death, he may have come to a place where he would be willing to take on unethical practices that hurt the industry and the horses who have given them the life they love.

    We need for the public faces of horse racing—people like Pat Day to come forward and speak for our horses. It will take courage. When their is gambling, there is usually the presence or organized crime and that can make it even more challenging for small organizations and individuals to step forward.


  8. Ms Allen already stated the MAIN problem….it is a state by state, self regulated industry with hardly any enforcement powers.

    O’Neill isn’t the cleanest or the dirtiest trainer walking US racing dirt.

    The entire system is screwed up and the state ag and Fed agriculture inspectors are the enablers.


  9. I absolutely agree that we need a federal law that has some teeth in it. We need to support funding for education and enforcement. This will not be an easy area to police until owners, trainers, veterinarians, and jockeys all buy into this. Many of these drugs are controlled substances that can only be purchased through a veterinarian. Phenylbutazone is one of these. A trainer cannot get bute without the cooperation of a veterinarian somewhere along the way. So there may have to be a higher level of accountability for equine veterinarians as was suggested in the December 2010 article in the Irish Veterinary Journal.


  10. Let us not forget about the other race horse: The Standardbred who gets thrown away to the Amish first for a bad life and then gets thrown away again to slaughter. None of them deserve such a poor ending.


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