For the first time since Sunday Silence in 1989, we have a legitimate Triple Crown contender. However, due to the black cloud that lingers over its trainer Doug O'Neill, I have conflicting feelings.
Do I, or don't I, root for I'll Have Another?
Yes. I understand this is horse racing and not trainer racing, but one does not win without the other.
Right now the portrait of a potential champion has been discolored based on the repeated violations and the pending 45-day suspension of trainer Doug O'Neill. The latest violation is an excess level of total carbon dioxide following a 2010 race at Del Mar. In O'Neill's defense, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) has agreed with O'Neill in stating it may not have been a result of milkshaking (an illegal action which a horse is fed a mixture of bicarbonate, soda and electrolytes with a tube down their throat that is known to enhance performance and combat fatigue).
CHRB's support here is good news.
The bad news is this isn't the first time. It is not even the second or third. This is the fourth time he has violated the allowable levels of total carbon dioxide.
And so, here we stand, a game perpetually troubled to find a new fan base, thrown another knuckleball. We're 10 days away from a Triple Crown bid and a nation is questioning the integrity of the game's most recognized trainer of the day.
We wonder whether or not his behaviors toward others in his barn are on the up-and-up. We wonder is I'll Have Another on the up-and-up? It is nearly impossible for the question not to cross our mind.
O'Neill has repeatedly stated he runs a clean barn and his horses are taken care of very well. Without question, I want this to be true. On a personal level I find him engaging, fun and with a great sense of humor. For all intents and purposes he could very well be a charismatic face of the game. But it cannot be ignored that his past calls into question the present, and the possible future of racing history.
Once again, racetrackers just can't get a break.
So, what do we do? As fans of the game, what do we do?
For starters, let the Racing Officials sort out this mess. Not the media. Not us bloggers. No one other than those whose profession it is to police the game, appropriately. I am not the slightest bit interested in speculation. All I want are the facts when they are said and done.
If O'Neill is in violation as they say, then discipline him but do so justly and without emotion.
If he is not in violation, then jeepers-creepers, good luck erasing that stain. Win or lose this battle, the damage to O'Neill's reputation may have been done.
I am not judging O'Neill. I have not walked a mile in his shoes. But I cannot think that CHRB would levy such a ruling on him without just cause. I would be lying by omission if I didn't say that the alleged actions of the accused have me reeling.
This guy has been known to milkshake his horses - at least three times so far - and this is the same guy who has a horse that is 12 furlongs from racing immortality.
You've got to be kidding me!
We all know it is near impossible for a horse to withstand the grueling demands of the Triple Crown. And yet, here we are, with a legit contender...and the person most responsible for his well being is under fire for mistreatment.
Again I ask, will racing fans EVER get a break?
Sure it is selfish of me but I want things to be clean, done right and damn it, I want a champion.
Is playing by the rules too much to ask for?
I would be willing to bet that most of us have asked ourselves "is I'll Have Another clean?" I would win that bet. Then I would parlay those winnings, plus every dollar I have ever earned, in betting that the answer is "yes."
But that black cloud.
It just hangs there.
Looming above...wearing a checkered hat.
It really does get to me and I don't think I am alone.
But, I may have an answer to my question of "do I or don't I?"
I am going to do my best to remember this is horse racing. Not trainer racing. Let the officials sort the O'Neill mess out and I will focus on one thing: Believing.
Believe this is the year.
Believe in the strength, power, closing speed and heart of I'll Have Another.
Believe in a champion.
And, should the stars align and the Gods grant us this wish, this moment of history, we can look to the heavens in thanks, and do so by looking past that black cloud.
Because that black cloud is not I'll Have Another.
It is, in fact, another.
Go, IHA! Go!