Embattled trainer Rick Dutrow made a plea for his career June 3, when he told a New York hearing officer considering a license revocation case against him that he has been good for the Thoroughbred industry.
Testifying as the last defense witness in the three-day hearing by a New York State Racing and Wagering Board hearing officer, Dutrow denied any knowledge of how a drug made it into the urine sample of one of his horses or how syringes were found in one of his barns.
“I wouldn’t do something improper with any of my horses,’’ Dutrow said, as a lawyer for the board brought up a long history of the trainer’s run-ins with regulators in New York and other jurisdictions.
“I’ve done really good in the game … and I wouldn’t risk that for anything,’’ Dutrow said during questioning before Clemente Parente, the hearing officer who is not expected to issue his recommendation in the case to the full racing board until probably August.
On the final day of the hearing, which was held in Schenectady, N.Y., the trainer used character witnesses – including Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr. – to make his case that he should not be tossed from the industry in the state where he does most of his business. Kentucky officials earlier this year already rejected his racing license, a case that is still on appeal.
Dutrow was suspended -- with the penalty on hold until a hearing -- for a urine sample containing Class 3 medication butorphanol in Fastus Cactus, who finished first last Nov. 20 in the third race at Aqueduct. A second suspension was issued after hypodermic needles were found in a Dutrow barn. The two infractions together carried a 90-day suspension.
But the racing board has expanded the potential punishment to revocation of his license for what it said is a pattern of violations over the years. It called him “a person whose conduct at racetracks in New York state and elsewhere has been improper, obnoxious, unbecoming, and detrimental to the best interests of racing.”
Legal papers from Dutrow in the New York case stated that the trainer was not in the barn at the time syringes were allegedly found. They also stated that Dutrow was not in the state when Factus Cactus had a positive post-race urine sample containing butorphanol. The papers said Dutrow offered to take a polygraph exam, which was not accepted by the stewards.
The sides wrapped up their lineup of witnesses, though they suggested one more witness – neither the state nor Dutrow’s lawyer would identify who it might be – could still be called. Dutrow’s lawyer, Michael Koenig, earlier in the week made claims of possible improprieties by state racing board chairman John Sabini over suggestions that he helped Edward Martin, head of Racing Commissioners International, craft a letter calling on Dutrow’s ouster from racing.
Asked by his lawyer at the beginning of his testimony if he had a “checkered’’ past, Dutrow said, “That would be more than fair.’’ Later, he said, “I know that there’s people out there that don’t like me.’’
Dutrow said he had no knowledge – despite trying to find out since the charges were brought against him – how Factus Cactus ended up with Butorphanol in his system or how the syringes came to be in his office desk.
Koenig said after the hearing that the drug is permitted in a horse's system at the time of a race, but it cannot be injected into a horse within 96 hours of a race.
Rick Goodell, the racing board’s lawyer in the case, repeatedly raised Dutrow’s past run-ins with regulators, and Dutrow acknowledged again that he engaged in training once during a suspension period. He then was slapped with a further fine and suspension in that 2005 case.
Dutrow listened as the state’s lawyer brought up past controversies, including claims that he had a workout time recorded for Wild Desert in 2007 at Monmouth Park that did not occur; the recent Kentucky case against him again noted that the horse later won the Queen’s Plate in Canada racing under another name because Dutrow was under suspension at the time.
“That was rehashing Rick’s past for which he’s already been punished,’’ Koenig said after the hearing. He added, “Rick has paid the price for whatever transgressions he’s had in the past.’’
Dutrow defense is two-fold: block the state’s attempt at the broader revocation of his license and convince regulators that he was not responsible for the two latest incidents.
“His horses are his life,’’ said Samantha Siegel, managing partner of Jay Em Ess Stable in California, who testified via phone from the bedroom of her Beverly Hills home.
“We respect Rick and we send him some of our best horses every year because he’s very good at what he does,’’ she added.
Goodell sought to pin Siegel down over whether she had contact with Dutrow during one of his past suspension periods. “We spoke because we are also friends,’’ she said, adding that “maybe’’ they talked horses.
Joe Torre, the former manager of the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, did not make -- as expected -- a video pitch on behalf of Dutrow, who trained a horse Torre partially owned.
The racing board is seeking to lay out a case that Dutrow’s many infractions over the years – 64 sanctions since 1979 in various jurisdictions – make him no longer fit to continue working in New York.
Dutrow, who is actively training about 80 horses now, talked of his life-long involvement in racing, working “year round, non-stop,’’ and of his major accomplishments, including training Big Brown, the 2008 Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness winner.
“I’ve never injected any horse,’’ he said.
Dutrow said he gave no orders for the drug to be administered to Fastus Cactus, who he described as a difficult horse to train because of the “silly’’ things he would do, like suddenly cut to the right while running.
But Dutrow mostly sought to dismiss criticism from his detractors that he should not be in racing. “I think I’m good for the racing game … I’m very proud of what I’ve done,’’ he told the hearing officer.
The colorful Dutrow did not disappoint; he several times made the state’s lawyer repeat questions using smaller words and joked with the hearing officer during a break while complaining about the effects a pizza lunch was having on his stomach.
“I don’t drug the horses,’’ Dutrow said bluntly at one point.
Asked by the state’s lawyer if he recalled the controversy he created about his pronouncements about his regular use of Winstrol in 2008, Dutrow sounded confused several times, but then added of the whirlwind in racing quarters, “I didn’t do it for that.’’
Dutrow’s three-year training license in New York expires in early August during the Saratoga meet. It is uncertain if the case will be decided by then, and officials would not say if Dutrow would be eligible for a conditional license if a ruling does not happen before his current license expires.
Asked by the hearing officer if he understood the state’s “trainer responsibility’’ rules, which could be a key factor in at least a possible suspension, Dutrow said, “I’m well aware of that rule.’’
Documents in the case are not yet public, the hearing officer said after the June 3 session. He gave Dutrow’s lawyer a week to submit legal motions, including a bid to toss out the revocation attempt. Final papers from the two sides won’t have to be in until four weeks after the hearing’s transcripts are available; those transcripts typically take up to three weeks to be made public after a hearing.
After the hearing, Koenig, Dutrow’s lawyer, said the trainer served his own case well. “He did an excellent job testifying on his own behalf,’’ Koenig said, adding that even witnesses called by the racing board during the hearing ended up offering praise of Dutrow’s work.
“There’s no evidence to suggest that Rick should lose his license. To the contrary, the evidence was that he’s good for the sport,’’ Koenig said.