Penny Chenery, who owned 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, said the owner of I’ll Have Another "should be embarrassed" over allegations that trainer Doug O’Neill gave horses performance-enhancing substances.
O’Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam are hoping their colt will triumph June 9 in the Belmont Stakes to become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, but Chenery lamented the possibility that the historic achievement could end up tainted.
"I think it is regrettable," the 90-year-old told The Atlantic.
"And it isn’t the horse’s fault, and this is probably a very good horse. I don’t know Mr. Reddam personally, but I think he should be embarrassed that the trainer he has chosen does not have a clean record."
The comments from Chenery, who bred and owned arguably the greatest thoroughbred of all-time, came after O’Neill was handed a 45-day suspension in California. The ban, which does not take effect until July 1, stems from one of his horses testing positive for high levels of carbon dioxide in 2010.
O’Neill has repeatedly denied giving the horse a performance-enhancing concoction — referred to as a "milkshake" — and could still appeal the penalty. The California Horse Racing Board said last week it did not believe a "milkshake" had been used in O’Neill’s case.
”It’s disappointing because of how much respect I have for Mrs. Chenery,” O’Neill told The Associated Press, regarding Chenery’s criticism. ”I would love to have her hang out with me for a week and would stress to her, `Don’t believe everything that is written.’ ”
The allegations do not concern O’Neill’s handling of I’ll Have Another.
But it was the third time one of O’Neill’s horses had been found to have elements of an illegal performance enhancer at a California racetrack, and he was also suspended for a similar offense in Illinois in 2010.
O’Neill continues to insist that he abides by the rules. He believes Chenery would approve of his large operation if she was more familiar with it.
”I think she’d be happy with the way things happen around the barn,” he said.
I’ll Have Another, bidding to become the 12th Triple Crown champion and the first since Affirmed in 1978, turned in another strong gallop Tuesday morning at Belmont Park. He finished so powerfully that his final three furlongs resembled a workout. David Grening of the Daily Racing Form timed that segment in 38.26 seconds.
O’Neill said he intended to reach out to Billy Turner, who trained 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, for advice on how to handle the remaining days leading to the Belmont Stakes.
Chenery, who was played by Diane Lane in the 2010 film "Secretariat," said horse owners should strive to always act in the "in the cleanest possible manner" in order to dispel the notion that the sport is corrupt.
"I think people like to believe that horse racing is fixed," Chenery said.
"I think there’s a little something that’s naughty, that if you know someone you can find out if the fix is in, and I don’t think we should fall for that. Or let that image be true."