A day before trainer Rick Dutrow was scheduled to relinquish his license to train horses for at least the next 10 years in New York, a state judge put a temporary hold on the punishment handed down last week by racing regulators, according to the trainer’s lawyer.
Dutrow, slapped by the state’s racing board for what it called a pattern of license abuses over the years in New York and elsewhere, was given a 30-day stay to give his lawyer time to appeal the punishment to state Supreme Court.
The stay issued by Judge Richard Giardino in Schenectady on Oct. 17 will allow Dutrow, who won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with Big Brown, to continue his training operation in New York as the legal wrangling shifts from a state regulatory body to the state’s court system.
“We are very satisfied with today’s decision, and we look forward to appealing the New York State Racing and Wagering Board’s decision in the courts,” said Michael Koenig, Dutrow’s lawyer.
Racing board officials declined to comment after the court hearing.
It remains uncertain what might happen at the end of the 30-day stay, including if it will be extended to what could be months or even years of a court challenge.
Regulators last week stripped Dutrow of his license for 10 years--effective Oct. 18--and fined him $50,000. The fines pertain to discovery of the painkiller butorphanol in a urine sample from Fastus Cactus following the third race last Nov. 20 at Aqueduct, as well as officials finding hypodermic needles in a Dutrow barn. The strict license suspension, which includes a ban from Dutrow appearing on the grounds of any track in the state, was meant to both punish the trainer for dozens of various infractions over the years and to send a message to the broader racing community, regulators said last week.
The Racing and Wagering Board’s penalty was less harsh than one recommended by the hearing officer who oversaw Dutrow’s case: a lifetime revocation of his license.
In papers opposing the stay submitted to the judge by the state attorney general’s office, Rick Goodell, assistant counsel at the state racing and wagering board, said Dutrow’s appeal in the state courts could take as long as 36 months. Goodell said a stay “would cause more harm to the public and to pari-mutuel racing than benefit (Dutrow).’’
“As (Dutrow) concedes, he has a checkered past and many, many rule violations. The instant violations are severe. One of his horses raced with a controlled substance, ten times more potent than morphine, in its bodily system. Just weeks earlier, loaded syringes were found in his top desk drawer at his barn space on the race track. An injunction only governs what happens in the next 18 to 36 months. There is no doubt that (Dutrow) warrants a sanction for at least this long,’’ the state said in the court filing.
The state was successful in limiting the stay to just the next 30 days. After that, it would be up to another judge – or a panel of judges if it goes right to a mid-levels appeals court–to decide whether to provide an injunction for the duration of the court case.
The state attorney general's office, which is representing the racing board in court, appeared to be already making its case against a long-term injunction for Dutrow. “An absence from actively participating in racing will not prevent (Dutrow) from resuming his career, in the very unlikely event that he were to prevail in this proceeding at the end of that time period,’’ the state’s papers said.
“Let this be a lesson to other people in the business,” said NYSRWB chairman John Sabini last week.
Dutrow’s lawyer has accused the board of violating the trainer’s due process and ignoring evidence about his beneficial role in racing. He said Sabini has a conflict of interest: he is a member of the board of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, which last year recommended that New York revoke Dutrow’s license.
Since the New York board’s ruling, stewards at Santa Anita in California said they would honor New York’s Dutrow ban. Dutrow previously was refused a license to race in Kentucky for 2010.
Dutrow has four months to file an Article 78 appeal in court to the racing board’s decision, but Koenig volunteered today to push the timetable up to 30 days. Koenig said he will then ask whatever court ends up with the Article 78 case to grant another stay while that case is fought over.
“We have no interest in delaying this case. We want a quick and expeditious resolution so Rick can go on with his career,’’ Koenig said.
As for the California track saying it would accept New York’s ban of Dutrow, Koenig said, “California can do whatever it wants to do, but right now they should do nothing because there’s a stay. Rick will be training on Thursday just as he was yesterday.’’