His stable is smaller now, and he runs fewer races (621 last year compared to 1,021 in 2007).

"No one cares more"

O'Neill has known off-the-track tragedy, as well.




Dennis O'Neill recently finished treatment for non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and must visit his oncologist every three months. "She's convinced me how tough this thing is," he said. Their older brother, Danny, died of melanoma 13 years ago. Verge can't shake the image of Doug carrying Danny, whittled by the disease, toward the end.

Verge said O'Neill quietly does charity work in California, raising money to fight cancer. In Baltimore, between eating steamed crabs and throwing out the first pitch at an Orioles game, O'Neill visited children at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"You just gotta build 'em up," O'Neill said. "High energy. We'll give to them what we can. We're going to get a lot from them. Being there reminds you that what you're worried about just ain't that big a deal."

That same day, O'Neill had been telling a reporter that he wanted to go into detail about the TCO2 test but couldn't.

Larry "Thumper" Jones, the equine chiropractor who works with O'Neill's horses, charged into the discussion.

"No one cares more about his horses than this man," he nearly screamed. "I've been everywhere. Worked on thousands and thousands of horses. Seen everything. Nobody cares more. I'm telling you that. This guy, he did nothing. I'm telling you."

O'Neill interrupted him.

"Thanks, Thumper," he said. "I mean it. Thank you."

It's true that Jones makes a great deal of money thanks to O'Neill. It's true that others who vouch for him can remember O'Neill as a daring shooter on the sixth-grade basketball team who didn't play much defense. They are too close to the man who could help resuscitate or harm horse racing.

How he's remembered, he knows, will be determined later, by others.

"I just hope it gets a chance to come out," O'Neill said. "I hope we keep winning, and I hope we keep talking about this, and I hope you see it how I see it."

ckorman@baltsun.com

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