Richard Dutrow, Jr. had quite a weekend.
On Friday, he was granted a stay of the 10-year-suspension handed to him by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board in October; according to Thoroughbred Times, the stay is granted “until the appeal of the board’s decision process is resolved.”
On Saturday, Dutrow went three-for-three at Aqueduct. Bud White won the first, Launch N Relaunch won the third, and the ironically named Redeemed won the Grade 3 Discovery.
On Sunday, Dutrow won both races in which he was entered. Groomedforvictory won the Adirondack Holme Stakes and Head Heart Hoof won the eighth.
“Good day, babe,” he said in the winner’s circle after the Discovery. What, I wonder, did he say Sunday afternoon, after sweeping his entries at the Big A? “Excellent weekend, babe”?
As of Sunday night, Dutrow has started 25 horses at the current Aqueduct meet, winning with 13. He’s got five seconds and two thirds. That’s a whopping 80% of his starters running in the top three.
Unsurprisingly, Dutrow’s recent record has elicited no small measure of local commentary. Grudging admiration for his horses’ success; speculation that with the suspension looming, he’s throwing everything he’s got at his horses to win; speculation that with the suspension looming, he’s got to be clean because he’s got too many eyes on him.
I’m a law-and-order kind of woman, a big believer in rules for the benefit of communities and individuals, and a rule-follower. I was a dean for eight years, and a big part of my job was writing and enforcing disciplinary procedures.
In eight years of meting out consequences, I learned that teenagers can deal with pretty much anything as long as they feel like they are being dealt with fairly. If the rules are clearly articulated, if they are obviously in the wrong, if their consequences are in line with other students who have committed similar infractions…well, they might not like what’s happening, but they can understand and deal with it. I learned a lot – and continue to learn – from them about the importance of fairness.
I know that high school infractions aren’t in the same league as racing violations. I know that adults should be held to a higher standard than teenagers. But I can’t help thinking that there’s a measure of unfairness in the way that Dutrow has been treated over the last six months.
Does he deserve consequences for his repeated infractions? Oh, yeah. Should his history of infractions be considered when consequences are determined? Oh, yeah. Should he be singled out and used as an example? No.
In 2007, Kentucky suspended the training license of Patrick Biancone for a year after cobra venom was found in his barn; the Daily Racing Form, in reporting on the suspension, noted that Biancone had had two medication violations the previous month. (Because Biancone dropped his appeal, he was suspended for six months and prohibited from seeking a trainer’s license for an additional six months (DRF)). In 1999, Biancone had been suspended for ten months by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
Yet this repeat offender, suspended for having cobra venom in his barn – cobra venom, for heaven’s sake — continues to race here, the State Racing and Wagering Board apparently feeling no compunction about re-issuing him a license when that little mess was all cleared up.
So while I don’t condone any of Dutrow’s infractions, and while I agree with those who say that he deserves serious consequences for them, the stringency with which he alone has been treated, the way that he seems to have been singled out, elicits a measure of sympathy. I should probably be outraged at Dutrow’s winning clip; instead, I watch with a kind of grudging fascination.
I don’t want anyone around horses who’s damaging them, who’s putting them at risk with medication and pain-killers. I don’t want someone in the game who continually flouts the rules. I do want rules enforced fairly and consistently, and I can’t make sense of a system that permits Biancone to race but nails Dutrow for 10 years.
Dutrow’s going to be able to keep training for a while, and it’s hard not to imagine that a lot of regulatory eyes are on him. A smart man would take this stay as a chance to begin to, yes, redeem himself and act unimpeachably, not only because it would benefit him and his appeal, but because it’s the right thing to do for the horses and for the sport.
Have at it, babe.
Related: In April, Ed Martin of the Association of Racetrack Commissioners International talked with me about his recommendation to review Dutrow’s license.