In February, Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, caused quite a stir when he called for the New York State Racing and Wagering Board to review the license of trainer Richard Dutrow, Jr.
Martin’s suggestion was greeted with both approbation and skepticism. Dutrow’s record of violations sits uneasily with those seeking integrity in racing, and Martin’s declaration was seen as a shot in the fight to rid the game of one who consistently breaks the rules, coming as it did shortly after the NYSRWB suspended Dutrow for 90 days after his Fastus Cactus tested positive for the painkiller Butorphanol.
Yet not everyone applauded Martin’s stance. Dutrow is not known for kowtowing to the press or the authorities – this is the man, after all, who famously called in sick when asked to appear before Congress – and in some quarters, Martin’s statement seemed geared towards sticking it to a man whose attitude rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
I recently spoke with Martin, who explained that his position has everything to do with what’s good for racing and nothing to do with the personality of the man involved.
Racing, said Martin, is “struggling with concept of deterrence.” He believes that the risk of losing the ability to participate in the sport could and would be an effective deterrent to those who have a continual pattern of disregard for the rules.
He makes clear that he did not call for Dutrow’s license to be revoked. “I suggested,” he said, “that Dutrow’s history of violations should be considered in the renewal of license.”
And he says that racing fans should expect to see more of the same in the near future. “In the next couple of months,” he explained, “we’ll be sending letters to racing commissions about licenses by virtue of the information in the RCI database, which is the only central record of violations of repeat offenders.”
Then, he pointed out, the matter is in the hands of individual jurisdictions. “We have no authority on licensing,” he said. “Jurisdictions have the authority to handle situations and our recommendations as they will. They’ll make their own decisions.” He acknowledged that the RCI does have “the power of the pulpit,” and can make recommendations to members, recommendations that are the process of extensive discussion with RCI members.
Martin spoke with me shortly after the ARCI’s annual conference, held this year in New Orleans in the days before the Louisiana Derby, and he said that one of the discussions focused on Hugh Gallagher of the Delaware Standardbred Association. According to Martin, the Delaware will now impose conditions on licenses for those who incur numerous repeat offenses in certain areas. If a chronic offender repeats, he would agree to surrender his license.
“It is,” Martin claimed, “a potential effective deterrent and it will get people to obey the rules.”
Martin characterized his request to the NYSRWB as a matter of timing. “We’ve been talking here [at the ARCI] about doing this, and Dutrow just happened to be the next guy to get another violation. It triggered what we’ve been talking about, about putting commissions on notice for repeat offenses as part of licensing review. Dutrow just happened to be the one that tripped the wire.”
Martin insisted that personality had nothing to do with it. “I’ve never met the man,” he said. “His record is his record.”
Martin is a former executive director of the very organization on which he’s calling now to take a tough line. He left the NYSRWB in 2005, and he doesn’t, he said, remember working with Dutrow in his time at the board. He spoke in detail about the process by which decisions were made about offenses, but, he said, “I managed that process. I didn’t determine penalties.”
According to Martin, the RCI is determined to try to develop ideas and proposals that will improve the reputation of racing. He admitted that while the process of hearings and appeals is “very fair,” it comes under criticism because of how long it takes. He characterized those complaints as “very valid.” “We wrestle with how to make the system work as efficiently as possible without denying constitutional rights. It’s a balance we have to play with.”
Martin also acknowledged the value of greater transparency. “We’re in discussions about to make the system, the process more public and transparent.” Asked about public access to the RCI database of violations and fine and suspension information, Martin said that the cost of public access would be prohibitive. “It’s a costly system to operate,” he explained, “and we do charge a fee to those who want to access the records. We can’t do it otherwise; we’re a small not-for-profit.”
Martin grew up on Long Island and he recalled that he used to cut his high school classes to go to Belmont. He’s been a consultant and a radio talk show host; he worked in the Reagan administration. His previous jobs, he said, pale in comparison to his current one. “Racing regulation,” he said, “is the most interesting, fascinating thing I’ve ever done.”
Update: late this morning, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission denied Dutrow a racing license.