While Rick Dutrow appeals to the Maryland Racing Commission on Tuesday to have his horse King and Crusader reinstated as the winner of the $75,000 Maryland Juvenile Championship at Laurel Park, his future continues to hang in the balance because of another case in New York.
Dutrow is facing what is considered to be the harshest penalty ever handed down in New York state horse racing. Barring a successful appeal of that case, Dutrow could lose his trainer's license for 10 years, a penalty that most states, including Maryland, would abide by, virtually costing him his livelihood.
Some in the industry sympathize with Dutrow, but most — including Dutrow's older brother Tony — feel serious punishment is needed for drug-related rule violators.
"Ricky's not innocent, but this is all he's done his whole life," Tony Dutrow said of his brother's situation. "It's sad to see him in this position.
"At the same time, all of us, including Ricky, want to see the best face racing can put on," added Tony Dutrow, who grew up training horses with his family in Maryland. "We need the very best face put on horse racing. And I absolutely believe almost everyone in the horse business is doing the right things. But it is so easy to give the sport a black eye. So we all have to be careful. And I don't believe these bodies are wrong for coming down on Ricky."
Along with the possibility of a 10-year ban, Dutrow could be fined $50,000. Both punishments are for being a chronic violator of the industry's rule book. He was granted a stay of the ban until his appeal is complete — a process that could take an additional six months.
Dutrow's attorney, Mike Koenig, filed an appeal with the New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division in mid-March, arguing due process and rights violations because of an alleged conflict of interest on the part of New York Racing and Wagering Board chairman John Sabini, who is also secretary/president-elect of Racing Commissioners International. He also argues that Dutrow is being punished for appealing two suspensions that totaled 90 days.
"One of Mr. Sabini's boards wrote a letter urging and advocating what his other board controlled and decided," Koenig said. "We've filed our appeal, and sometime down the road, we will have a hearing."
At Laurel Park, Dutrow's trouble isn't nearly as dire. But it is rooted in the same issue — integrity in the sport. In January, stewards upheld a protest made by the connections of the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers in the Juvenile, who asked that King and Crusader be disqualified because he was treated within an hour before the Dec. 17 race.
The stewards found there was no argument about when the horse was treated and said that if they had known, he would have been disqualified before the race. But there was a breakdown in operating procedure and the stewards were not informed of the violation of the rule that prohibits a horse from being treated within two hours of a race. Dutrow, who was not at the track the day of the race, told the stewards by phone during a Jan. 13 hearing that he called officials the day of the race to say the horse would be late because of traffic and was told to continue to the track.
King and Crusader's owner, James Riccio, has appealed and filed a complaint because "the horse should have been scrutinized before the race. They didn't vet him."
The stewards are investigating the reason the breakdowns occurred.
In horse racing, where integrity is essential to the betting public, great concern about cheating has developed in recent years. Congress has held hearings on drug abuse in the sport, and the amount of money bet on racing was down 8.49 percent this time last year, though it is up 5.43 during the first three months of 2012, according to the Equibase Company.
The 52-year-old Dutrow, who now trains his horses in New York, has a history of success and a history of violations. During Dutrow's pursuit of the 2008 Triple Crown with Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, he became the first big-name trainer to draw attention to the legal use of steroids in training.
But there is no getting around a long list of misdeeds — 85 at 15 tracks in nine states through Dec. 9, 2011, according to data on file with the Association of Racing Commissioners International. The violations are for a variety of offenses that range from hiding workouts to bringing a horse late to the paddock to drug issues. In the 1990s, he served a five-year suspension in New York because of his own issues with substance abuse.
When he came back to the horse racing in 1998, he began rebuilding his career and became one of the sport's most successful trainers — a performance that is continuing unabated. This year, Dutrow's horses are winning at a 33 percent rate. He has 40 wins in 120 starts and is ranked No. 7 nationally, according to Equibase. His horses finish in the top three 74 percent of the time, and as of Friday had won $1,768,583 this year.
Dutrow also trained the late Saint Liam, who was Horse of the Year in 2005 and is the sire of Havre de Grace, the filly who finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic in November.
No one seems to be questioning the performances of Dutrow's great horses, primarily because of the extensive testing done after Triple Crown, Breeders' Cup and graded stakes races.
"It never entered my mind," Laurel Park trainer Tim Keefe said when asked whether he had doubts about the performances of Dutrow's winning horses. "The races they won, they came up clean. I don't think the shine goes off them. I think they're truly great horses.
"But I don't understand why owners with great horses continue to send their horses to people like that [with questionable reputations]. Why subject your horse to the possibility of that? If I'm an owner, my horse isn't going to a trainer with drug violations."
In February 2011, Dutrow was suspended for 60 days after one of his horses tested positive for a banned pain killer and an additional 30 days after hypodermic needles were found in a desk drawer in his barn. Dutrow testified that he knew nothing about the drugs or the needles, and he is appealing the suspensions.
He continues to train his horses while Koenig pursues his appeal in New York.
Dutrow said Koenig has advised him not to speak to anyone while he pursues the appeal.
"Rick has paid his price for past violations," Koenig said. "And I think the number of violations people are throwing around are gross misrepresentations of the situation. To say he's had 64 past equine drug violations is not true. Many of those violations were simply failures to file the proper paperwork.
"We feel one reason he's in this position is that he appealed the two most recent suspensions ... and they're just trying to punish him for appealing."
Tony Dutrow, who trained 2-year-old filly Grace Hall to a second place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, is emotional about his brother's situation.
"Ricky is my brother, and I don't want to get him thrown off the racetrack," Tony Dutrow said. "But Ricky's not innocent. Ricky has had numerous violations and penalties. He has been counseled by many people. I've come down on him; so have a lot of others. He's had counseling. It's not the industry's fault. It's Ricky's fault.
"He's my brother. I love him and I respect him. But this is a nightmare, and it saddens me."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun