Rick Dutrow’s weekend

Redeemed winning the Discovery. Courtesy of NYRA, Adam Coglianese

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.

28 thoughts on “Rick Dutrow’s weekend

  1. I agree with your assessment. While I personally don’t like Rick Dutrow at all, he shouldn’t be singled out for more severe punishment when there are so many out there doing what he does, or worse..

    And in an interestingly related note, I read not long ago that cobra venom is being developed as a topical arthritis treatment for humans. Think I’ll stick with my ibuprophen and Ben-Gay 😉

  2. As one aside, Dutrow is winning with, pretty much, one logical, and short priced, horse after another. Nothing he has done this meeting at Aqueduct has been particularly surprising, or suspicious.

    I’m not in any way suggesting you were saying otherwise. I just wanted to add that.

  3. He cheated. He used his license to steal. He stole from other trainers and owners. He cheated the public. He did it regularly, and did it over a period of time. He mocked the system, and laughed all the way to the bank. Now, that he was sanctioned but, currently has been granted a stay because he is appealing the ruling, he’s putting on his “Best Boy act.” He couldn’t/wouldn’t figure it out until he was ruled off for behavior and conduct detrimental to racing, not to mention other trainers, owners, and the betting public. I have absolutely not one iota of sympathy for this amoral serial cheater. And as far as that Biancone ruling, he should have been banned for life, in my opinion. Fragmented racing authorities have frequently resorted to a policy of enabling, not wanting to alarm anyone that there is cheating going on in their sport. Tolerance is an admirable attribute but, not when it comes to cheating. As my old criminology professor used to emphasize to us, “There are many more illegal ways to succeed at something, than there are legal ways.” It’s about time racing authorities, albeit fragmented ones, did something to deter it. Licenses should be considered to be a privilege, and not an inherent right. There are big responsibilities associated with it. You want to attract more people to the sport? Get rid of the cheaters, especially the serial kind, like Dutrow and Biacone.

  4. I feel Dutrow is comparable to former baseball star Barry Bonds, they both did things their fellow competitors were doing, but both were easy scapegoats to target. Barry Bonds was targeted by the powers that be during the Steroids scandal in Baseball even though MLB officials had the failed test results of hundreds of hundreds of other ballplayers at the time. It is so easy to pick one dark figure and vilify him

  5. Teresa is right. Let the courts do their work. We live in a country of laws. What is the hurry? When all is said and done, let’s not insist that justice what ever that is, be done, but let’s insist that injustice is NOT done. There is a little too much injustice going on in America today. (Google “The Justice Project” for some light on that subject)
    Is getting an advantage a sin? God forbid. No one really knows what Mr. Dutrow’s advantage is. Finding the weak spot in the system is at the heart of every game. I made quite a bit of money exploiting the weakness in the market in the Delta Jackpot on Saturday. How did I do it? I am not telling. Did I cheat? Who is to say without a day in court? Mr. Dutrow is having his day in court. It is the American way.
    Teresa, I like your steel.

  6. I feel like it’s important to distinguish between violations and cheating. Not all infractions are cheating, and if you look at the list of Dutrow’s violations, some, but by no means all, or even most, could be considered cheating.

    That said: I’ve never condoned or excused his behavior. I’ve only said that the system for dealing with his infractions seems inconsistent at best, unfair at worst. And I stand by that opinion.

  7. I agree on the courts. There are some in the sport who likely are doing this who just don’t have the high profile of Dutrow.

    This reminds me of what has been going on with Harness Racing with Lou Pena, who 18 months ago made national prominence with a horse named Real Joke at The Meadowlands with a performance that angered many when he won in 1:47 3/5 just two starts after he was claimed for $40,000 (YouTube video of that race from May 22, 2010: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPNkYll_gh4).

    Pena at one point was winning at 48% at Chester Downs, and eventually was barred from Yonkers Raceway for being “too good,” as I wrote about in August: http://www.toosmarttofail.com/forums/showthread.php?11554

    Dutrow and Pena’s cases are very similar in some ways.

  8. One other note:

    For those unaware, the Rooneys, who also own the Pittsburgh Steelers own Yonkers Raceway. They would not have suspended Pena unless they felt he did something really wrong.

  9. Dutrow is a bush league operator. Owners who give him good horses are clueless. Drugs and rule violations aside, the man has ruined countless good horses. Stardom Bound, Rail Trip and Big Brown would be a Triple Crown winner if Dutrow hadn’t been the trainer. When the horse needed his trainer, prior to the Belmont, Dutrow folded. Recent wins with a group of minor players at a meet with diminished competition is insignificant. Look at the big picture.

  10. He seemed to have done a pretty good job with Big Brown for all except one race, and with St. Liam as well, along with a number of other, less expensive, less accomplished horses, which might speak even more eloquently to his skill as a horsemen, which every trainer I’ve talked to has acknowledged.

    Do note, though, that my post is more about the system than about the man.

  11. Big Brown was never the same after the Belmont race.

    There is no doubt the system is terribly flawed, Teresa but it is hard to examine the system when Dutrow is standing in the door.

  12. I would love to know the real deal on Big Brown. What really happened to this horse on Belmont Day {or the days leading up to The Belmont Stakes}? In all my years following racing – and they are considerable – I cannot remember a more perplexing state of affairs. If anyone has any insights about the situation please share them here. Thank you.

  13. Theresa and Bill, the answer to both, St. Liam and Big Brown was, they were on steroids. Note what happened to Big Brown in the Belmont, when the steroids were abruptly taken away. The horse was rank and virtually uncontrollable throughout the race for Desormeaux. Now, you might need to re-assess and re-think just how good this Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner really was, when he wasn’t on steroids; and how big an advantage it was, over the rest of the horses in the field who weren’t on them.

    Marshall, maybe you can recollect the perception and outrage people had, when Oscar Barrera almost upset Slew O’ Gold with Shifty Sheik in the 1984 Woodward? A little drugs could help make up for a lot less talent.

    And, who could forget Slew’s 1983 Jockey Gold Cup and the field he faced that day, which didn’t include an Oscar Barrera horse.

    • August, a lot of — many? most? — horses were on steroids then, too, and none of them did what St. Liam and Big Brown did. Let’s also remember that steroids were a perfectly legal medication, and we have no idea which horses in the race were on them and which weren’t. It’s tough, I think, to fault a man for using a medication that was sanctioned by the sport.

  14. I think the reason for Big Brown’s flop in the Belmont is pretty straight forward. As indicated by his wins in the Derby and Preakness, the horse demonstrated he was talented and aggressive. Keep in mind he started from post 20 in the Derby and just strolled by everybody. Steriods or not the horse was impressive.

    The foot problem curtailed some of Big Brown’s training between the Preakness and the Belmont and there was allot of dithering around by Dutrow.

    The horse was very keyed up going into the Belmont and came out of the gate just flying. Dutrow had to know the inside post was a problem but failed to tell Desormeaux. What was he thinking. The horse was dealt a situation he couldn’t handle and was cooked by the first turn. Trainer and jockey at fault. Desormeaux then realized the horse was done and pulled him up.

    Dutrow should have instructed the boy on how to avoid the certain problem down on the inside with a rank horse.

    Maybe hold him a tad in the Gate, make a right turn and let the colt roll right around a soft field. It might have been ugly but the colt would have probably won.

    Dutrow was busy basking in the lime light and failed to take note of the pending Belmont situation. The horse was unprepared and both the trainer and jockey let him down.

    Some months later Desormeaux rode the flly Gozzip Girl in a Grade 1 race on the soft turf at Belmont. After a long lay off she broke from the inside and Desormeaux used the Belmont tactics. She ran up on other horses. stumbled and finished up the track. Career over.

    Big Brown’s demise was the result of a Dutrow error. Desormeaux didn’t help.

  15. Theresa, while steroids were not sanctioned at the time of Big Brown’s Derby and Preakness, the heat was on. It was about to be. People had had enough reading about what human athletes had been able to do with them, and then the axe came down. As you can probably attest to Teresa, it’s a small little colony at Belmont. Secrets don’t always stay secrets there very long. What Dutrow was doing was no secret. What was bizarre, was how long it took for racing authorities to ban the practice of using them. I used to be at the Belmont barn area, pretty regularly back then. I can remember listening to the grooms and the assistant trainer in our barn, telling me exactly what Dutrow was doing, and saying, “This is crazy! When will this idiocy stop!”

    And a lot of trainers didn’t use steroids. Ours did not. Maybe, he cared more about his horses, and the ultimate effects it might have on them? Or, maybe he just believed in the hay, oats, and water because that was how it was usually been done for so many lifetimes before him? Dutrow, and others like him, wanted to win at all costs, no matter what. Greed does strange things to men. He didn’t care what he did to his horses to achieve it. He didn’t care that what he did, affected so many other owners and trainers. You may be looking to absolve Dutrow, I and others haven’t forgotten. Ten years sounds perfect.

  16. Bob, have you ever been on a steroid medication, or have you ever known somebody who had? These are extremely powerful drugs. Certainly in regard to human use, there are warnings galore, to taper off slowly because of the profound effect it has when one stops abruptly from usage. While not the same, how do you think this might affect equines, especially coming off prolonged usage?

  17. Folks, I’m going to moderate further comments on this post. I’m not comfortable with the level of speculation and rumor in some of the comments. I appreciate all of your comments and thoughtful responses, but I’m not comfortable with unattributed, anonymous accusations.

  18. August Song #13 —

    Yes, indeed, the Slew Crew were fit to be tied after the ’84 Woodward. As I recall they said they were ready to go after NYRA, at the quarter pole, if Oscar’s horse had won! On the surface such a reaction to the $35000-claimer’s possible upset of Slew O’ Gold made sense and was approprate to the confusion of the race’s first seven furlongs; but, pari-mutually, Shifty Sheik’s payouts for placing were not all that bad; some in the crowd thought he had a chance.

    To come up with a few of these details I reviewed the CBS-TV Youtube you linked. Didn’t John Hertler and Angel Cordero, Jr. look young in 1984? I guess we all did twenty-seven years ago….

  19. August. During the 1980s, I worked in a professional capacity with Track and Field and Marathon runners. Drugs (steriods) were a problem in those days.

    Steroids were mainly a training drug. The drug increased the capacity for work so the fitness and recovery from work were enhanced. As the racing season came close the runner would wean off the drug slowly so they could race clean. The fitness remained.

    Abrupt stoppage of any drug had an adverse effect on many athletes. They crashed and burned. Many couldn’t function without the drug so they often continued and tested positive.

    Many runners on drugs were very agressive, hostile and had any number of mental and physical problems.

    I think horses on steroids would have similar problems. But I wonder if the time when Dutrow said he stopped using the drug and the closeness of the Belmont Stakes was significant.

    The drugs probably helped the horse get super fit but I think he lost the Belmont Stakes because of poor planning and training.

    I would concur that drug usage might have turned him into something he might not have been.

    Without drugs Big Brown was world class but with drugs he would have been world class plus a smidge.

    Sorry my memory is a little stale on the complications of drug usage in runners.

    End of the day,I believe Big Brown’s main problem was Dutrow.

  20. Updating earlier posts of mine here on Lou Pena (#7 and #8):

    Yonkers management is permitting Pena to return starting with Saturday night’s program. Pena to my knowledge since returning east has not been found guilty of anything.

    One trainer that gets a lot of scrutiny by bettors at Parx Racing and over the last couple of years has won as much as Dutrow has is Juan Carlos Guerrero, who at Parx has a win percentage of close to 40% over that period (though as I remember, that was down to 32% this year) and actually had a horse in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint (Golden Mystery) who was a non-threatening seventh. As Dick Jerardi wrote in July on Guerrero (http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/horse_racing/125329583.html), only having one minor positive for a muscle relaxant in that time. Apparently, he uses a hyperbolic chamber for his horses, which helps them get back into shape.

    Outside of those who bet Parx, he doesn’t get the scrutiny that Dutrow does, but he does win at a huge rate.

  21. Oops:

    What I meant to say was, that except for one minor drug positive (and that resulted in a $1,000 fine), Gurerro’s horses have never tested positive as noted in the article, and Gurerro has even said “they test too much” to try anything.

  22. As someone who has owned shares of horses finishing second or third to Dutrow trainees, it’s hard to know whether we lost a fair fight and there’s a bit of anger that isn’t there with a loss to any other trainer. Reputation, perhaps, more than reality on that day. Or maybe a bit of sour grapes, but it’s hard to shake the feeling of being cheated. With that said, he should be treated fairly. As you said Teresa, we all respond well when the system is fair.

    If you are in Saratoga this morning, you’re waking up to a bit of snow. Happy Thanksgiving wherever you are.

  23. Thanks everyone for offerring your opinions on what happened to Big Brown in The Belmont Stakes. An abrupt departure from steroids certainly sounds plausible as a major contributing factor. Just as puzzling was Kent’s ride. Well, the situation is no more puzzling than Life At Ten’s debacle last year.

  24. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/02/sports/othersports/02steroids.html?pagewanted=all

    Just FYI regarding steroid use on Big Brown, it really was not uncommon for horses to be on steroids in 2008. If people hate Dutrow for the steroid use, they should hate a boatload of trainers…including very popular ones.

    “…Among the nine trainers who are planning to run horses in the (2008) Belmont, only Rick Dutrow, the trainer of Big Brown, and Barclay Tagg, who trains Tale of Ekati, said their horses would race on steroids. Dallas Stewart, the trainer of Macho Again, said he had yet to decide whether his horse would receive them. The trainers Todd Pletcher and Nick Zito would not comment on whether their horses would be on steroids….”

    “…Steroids are legal in 28 of the 38 states where horse racing is held, including the three states holding Triple Crown races, and their use is prevalent. Before banning the drugs in Pennsylvania, racing officials there tested 998 horses and found that 61.7 percent were positive for steroids and 17.3 percent had been treated with two steroids or more….”

    Interesting reading, as usual, Teresa!

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