By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP National Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - This should be a time to celebrate the Sport of Kings.
Instead, the latest quest for a Triple Crown has exposed the warts of a tarnished monarchy.
It's hard to get fired up about I'll Have Another's bid to join the most exclusive of clubs, not when he's trained by a guy whose nickname is "Drug" and who recently earned a 45-day suspension that will start a few weeks after the horses cross the finish line in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
It's tough to feel cuddly about the chestnut colt with the catchy name and heart of a champion, not when the stable where he and his rivals are housed has been transformed into an equine gulag, surrounded by iron barriers and watched over 24-7 in a desperate but pathetic-looking attempt to prove everything is on the up-and-up.
Even if I'll Have Another becomes the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, don't expect someone to make a movie along the lines of "Seabiscuit" or "Secretariat."
A victory will surely be met with some degree of suspicion and finger-pointing. For that matter, a loss would probably bring the same reaction. There's little chance of spinning this into some sort of defining moment that lifts horse racing back to a place of sporting prominence, rather than the three-days-out-of-the-year sideshow it has become.
"This should be a warm, fuzzy, feel-good story," said longtime trainer D. Wayne Lukas, whose horses have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes a total of 13 times. "Instead, we've got something else."
Lukas was relaxing in the sprawling complex of barns at Belmont Park on Thursday morning, watching over a lesser-known horse who whacked him in the head a couple of days earlier. There was a nasty gash across his forehead, which required three layers of stitches and the delicate touch of a plastic surgeon. His left eye had turned black, and he was still trying to shake a throbbing headache.
"The story line is not that we've got a special horse trying to do something that would be significant in racing," Lukas said. "We've got that sidebar of the medication issues and the trainer and all that. It's unfortunate we have to deal with that."
The trainer in question, Doug O'Neill, has introduced us all to the term "milkshaking" _ and, no, this version has nothing to do with ice cream. Four times in his career, the 44-year-old has been cited for having horses with elevated levels of total carbon dioxide, which is supposed to reduce fatigue and is usually associated with a banned mixture of bicarbonate of soda, sugar and electrolytes.
O'Neill says he's done nothing wrong, and he's been quite good-natured in his dealings with the media despite all the extra scrutiny. He even shrugged off his unfortunate nickname.
"Not good, but it just happens that my name rhymes with that," O'Neill said. "I know at the end of the day I love my horses and I take great care of my horses."
That said, there's little doubt New York racing officials had O'Neill in mind when they hastily set up a "detention barn" for the dozen horses entered in the Belmont Stakes. In past years, the horses were spread out at barns around the park. Now, they're all together, sequestered and guarded, their every move checked and double-checked.
"We don't like it," trainer Bob Baffert grumbled. "It's an inconvenience. You're supposed to have fun."
Everyone who enters the barn has to sign in. Every product that is used to care for a horse must be inspected _ right down to the shampoo.
"The security barn over there is a complete circus," Lukas said, glancing derisively in that direction. "Obviously, it was created by people who aren't familiar with horses. We're going through a lot of things that are unnecessary here. There was a way to do it if they wanted to increase security. Just go wherever the horse is stabled and put security people in front of them. But putting them all in one barn? Those horses are not resting well. It could actually be counterproductive to some of them."
He was especially perturbed about some of the more vigilant measures. When Lukas entered the barn to deliver an evening meal to his horse, Optimizer, he was challenged about what was in the feed. The guard wanted him to go get the bags he used and mix them right on the spot. Lukas flatly refused.
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