One reason for the double-secret probation is that there is a beautiful chestnut colt named I'll Have Another that has won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and will try to make history on Saturday and become the 12th Triple Crown winner and the first in 34 years. So, there is a fair amount of attention being paid to the event.
The larger reason, however, is that I'll Have Another is trained by a Californian named Doug O'Neill whose record when it comes to this sort of thing is not spotless. He has been cited for training violations more than two dozen times, and nine of those violations involved fines levied when his horses had too high a concentration of therapeutic medications in their systems.
During what should have been an upbeat interim between the Preakness and the Belmont, one of O'Neill's horses in California was found to have had an elevated level of carbon dioxide that indicated it had been given a "milk shake," a banned combination of baking soda, confectioner's sugar, and water that prevents the buildup of lactic acid during a race and reduces fatigue.
It's basically just Gatorade for horses, but it also isn't allowed. This was not O'Neill's first violation of that kind, and he faces a suspension in California, which he said he intends to fight.
"Can I be a better trainer? Sure. But I've never been guilty of having a horse with an illegal drug in it," O'Neill said in a break between training sessions this week. "There have been a lot of false statements that get picked up and things are written that are harmful and hurtful, but I know we play by the rules.
"A lot of the controversy has actually given me a chance to show people how well we care for the horses. This has been taxing and takes a lot of energy, but as long as the horse is doing good, we've been able to stay upbeat and focused."
As with many things about horse racing, his quote searches for a way to cut the narrowest line around the track of facts. None of the medications found in his horses were illegal or banned. That's true. There just happened to be too much of them. Or they happened to still be in the horses' systems on race day when they weren't supposed to be.
O'Neill has sworn on the heads of his children that he has never "milk-shaked" a horse. The facts in evidence and the California Horse Racing Board argue otherwise, but, again, there are grey horses and gray areas in this sport. It gets down to talking about parts per million of carbon dioxide and whether the Racing Board properly took into effect the "Lasix bump," which occurs when a horse using that anti-bleeding agent has an elevated carbon dioxide level as a result. If you take the time to read these findings - which I do not recommend for anyone but the terminally bored - there are always smudges around the edges of what should be a clear picture.
What is indisputable, however, is that O'Neill has more smudges than most trainers and that his reputation has been earned to a large extent by his own actions in seeking that shortest route to the wire.
As a result, the horses are in detention, with every vet call, every feed bucket, and every trainer visit watched closely. This is because of the possibility of a Triple Crown and because the trainer of the horse with the chance is Doug O'Neill. Everyone knows it, and not everyone likes it.
"I think it's crazy. The people making this decision don't have any idea what kind of stress this puts a horse under or the logistic nightmare for the barns involved. Nobody with any horsemanship made this decision," said Dale Romans, trainer of Dullahan, which finished third in the Kentucky Derby and will try to knock off I'll Have Another this time.
"It's just posturing" he said. "They could have quietly put a guard on every barn. These horses know where they live and where their homes are. It upsets them to have to move, and it's silly to do things just to posture."
The state of New York wants the public to be assured of a clean result, one would guess, but it's just "security theater" of the kind you can see any day in any U.S. airport where 90-year-old women have to remove their underwire bras, while the scanners usually can't find a nuclear submarine if it comes down the conveyor. If you really wanted to dope one of these horses, it could happen, although the stakes are probably too high to make that worth the risk. That's true with or without a detention barn.
"I guess we're just trying to tell people that it's a clean game," O'Neill said.
It wouldn't be as necessary, however, if there weren't trainers who keep telling the public otherwise.
Contact columnist Bob Ford at email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @bobfordsports. Read his blog, "Post Patterns," at www.philly.com/postpatterns