Trainer Richard Dutrow is the subject of a petition drive to persuade the New York State Gaming Commission to reduce his 10-year ban. Dutrow was suspended in 2013 following the Commission’s determination that he had violated drug regulations and that his continued participation was “inconsistent with the public interest … and the best interests of racing generally.”
Fellow trainer Dale Romans is behind the petition, arguing that the Commission’s predecessor, the Racing and Wagering Board, “imposed a punishment of unprecedented severity – they revoked Rick’s training license for 10 years and fined him $50,000” even though the stewards had imposed only a 90-day suspension for two “alleged infractions.” Romans further stated that Dutrow “has never run afoul of the rules of racing concerning any prohibited substance.”
Dutrow has been a controversial figure. He achieved national attention in 2008 when his horse Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He did not shy from the media spotlight, displaying an exuberant personality. But his record of numerous drug violations came to the fore, and Dutrow acknowledged using anabolic steroids on his horses. At the time, the steroids were not a prohibited drug.
The matters that were the subject of the disciplinary action occurred in 2010. On November 3, a search of his office at an Aqueduct barn uncovered three hypodermic syringes filled with xyzaline, a medication used to alleviate lameness and calm a nervous horse. Seventeen days later, a horse trained by Dutrow tested positive for the medication butorphanol in a post-race urinalysis.
The stewards at Aqueduct issued a 30-day suspension for possessing hypodermic needles, and 60 days for the post-race positive. The penalties were stayed because of an appeal filed by Dutrow’s attorney. The Gaming Commission then issued an Order to Show Cause why Dutrow’s license should not be suspended or revoked, and fines of $25,000 for each violation should not be assessed.
The case went to a hearing officer who conducted three days of hearing, and found against Dutrow on all counts. He recommended $50,000 in fines and a permanent revocation of Dutrow’s license. Following two years of litigation in the courts, the Commission upheld the report of the Hearing Officer in all respects, but reduced the permanent revocation to a 10-year ban.
For the record, I do not know Rick Dutrow and have never met him. I was aware of the buzz regarding drug violations, but do not take at face value such allegations without evidence. (I have also never met Dale Romans, but did have some excellent meals at a “pop-up” restaurant his family once ran several years ago during the Saratoga meet.)
I looked at all the records of Dutrow’s violations on the web site of the Gaming Commission going back to 2000. There were more than 20, but most of them were for minor violations, many of the “paper work” variety.
Some were not minor. In 2005, he rolled up three violations and was fined $5,000 and suspended for 60 days, including a post-race test for Mepivacaine. He was later fined $25,000 and suspended for 14 days for what I surmise (given the timing) was ignoring this earlier suspension by the Commission. In 2007, there was a $1000 fine and 7-day suspension for a post-race Bute positive. From 2007 to the events in 2010, he had one violation and a $250 fine.
The Dutrow record in New York presents an arguable case for leniency, particularly after serving half of the 10-day suspension. But the report of the Hearing Officer that was the basis for the lengthy penalty presents important context:
“Since 2003, Dutrow has been fined and/or suspended for numerous drug violations. He has had his license suspended for more than 10 days on three separate occasions; in 2003 for a mepivacine violation …; in 2004 for a clenbuterol violation …; and, in 2008 for a clenbuterol violation in Kentucky (15 days). In addition to those violations that warranted suspension, there are numerous other drug violations in Florida for the use of phenylbutazone…. Furthermore his New York State racing application history report and RCI comprehensive ruling report … reveals a consistent inability to abide by regulatory rules including a lack of truthfulness in statements to regulators (the RCI records indicate he has falsified license applications in California , Kentucky , and Delaware ).”
I do not think Dale Romans is helping his case by eliding important facts. When he says Dutrow never ran afoul of the rules concerning “prohibited substances,” he ignores the reality that a therapeutic drug can be permissible if properly administered. When it shows up in a horse at race time, it is now “prohibited.”
He also blames the admittedly severe penalty because “people didn’t like him,” as reported by Bill Finley at Thoroughbred Daily News. That opinion is undercut, however, by the testimony of state witnesses that they like Dutrow, finding him to be a “fine gentleman” and someone “who takes tremendous care of his horses.”
But his worse miscalculation may be the argument advanced to Finley that the syringes containing xyzaline found in Dutrow’s desk were “planted.” It is an assertion that is too convenient, and not one that Dutrow even advanced in his hearing.
And it could only have been planted by someone seeking to do Dutrow harm – either a private individual or, implicitly, the Gaming Commission that Romans has already accused of bias.
I obviously do not know if a private individual did it. But in my experience with those associated with the Gaming Commission, I have never had reason to question their integrity.
If the Dutrow camp is going to continue denying any fault, and seeking to accuse the licensing agency of dishonesty, they may as well wait to seek a license when the 10-year penalty is up in 2023.