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.
But none of it — the drug charges or the rate of damaged horses under his care — has much impeded O’Neill’s rise in the ranks of racing, and so there he was last Saturday, saddling I’ll Have Another, the surprising 3-year-old who won the 138th Kentucky Derby.
O’Neill’s Derby victory places him — and his troubled record — center stage at a time when thoroughbred racing is facing perhaps its greatest ethical reckoning.