One of the racing industry’s closely watched legal proceedings begins May 31 as state regulators in New York commence a hearing that could lead to the revocation of trainer Rick Dutrow’s license.
Officials with the state Racing and Wagering Board have said that Dutrow’s history of past allegations—along with two current cases against him—should lead to his ouster from the industry in the state.
But allies say the regulators are reaching too far in a case that could have implications beyond Dutrow if this week’s hearing—which begins at 1 p.m. EDT May 31 at the board’s Schenectady headquarters – convinces the full racing board to take away his license.
“Rick is looking forward to this hearing and a favorable resolution of this matter,’’ said Michael Koenig, Dutrow’s new attorney in the matter.
Koenig a day before the scheduled hearing declined to discuss the case and said Dutrow would not be available for an interview in advance of the hearing. Racing Board officials have also declined for months to comment on the specifics of the case.
Besides fighting the two latest charges, Dutrow is expected to challenge the broader revocation bid by the racing board as overly punitive. Dutrow is also expected to bring out a lineup of character witnesses; speculation is that the list could include Joe Torre, the former New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers manager and part owner of a horse once trained by Dutrow.
The controversial trainer, known for his brash ways, was suspended—with the penalty on hold until a hearing – for a urine sample containing Class 3 medication Butiophanol in Fastus Cactus, who finished first on Nov. 20 last year 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. The board has expanded the potential punishment to revocation of his license for what it said is a pattern of violations over the years.
“I would think the whole industry would be keeping an eye on the outcome. It could impact other people down the road,’’ trainer Todd Pletcher said in an interview May 30.
Pletcher said he is not familiar with all the details of the case against Dutrow. “I feel for anybody with their livelihood at stake,’’ he said. “I don’t personally feel that he’s a bad person or a bad representative of the business. I think he’s probably a little misunderstood. I don’t know him real well, but I’ve always respected the way his horses show up and the way they run.’’
Pletcher said he has no plans to show up to testify on Dutrow’s behalf this week during the hearing, but said the case has potential implications for the industry. “I’d be concerned anytime you potentially take away someone’s trade and livelihood,’’ he said.
“I think he’s an excellent horseman. I think he’s a very gifted person,’’ said Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr.
Cordero said he has known Dutrow since he was a child when his father, Richard Dutrow Sr., came to the New York racing circuit. “A lot of people are very jealous of what he’s accomplished. I’ve been through that when I was in the limelight,’’ Cordero said May 30. “A lot of people are jealous of him because he wins a lot.”
Dutrow’s previous lawyer, Gerard Romski, recently sought to transfer the case to the racing agency’s Board of Stewards. They claim Dutrow and his legal team were not provided adequate access to documents in the matters that could have reduced or negated the original proposed penalties against the trainer.
Racing officials in Kentucky this year denied Dutrow a license, a case that is on appeal.
Legal papers filed earlier this month 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, which was not accepted by the stewards.
Dutrow’s legal team has already raised concerns over criticisms against the trainer by Edward Martin, president of the Racing Commissioners International and former executive director of the New York racing board. A day after Dutrow’s suspensions were announced in February, Martin wrote New York regulators and, citing a history of problems involving Dutrow, openly questioned whether the trainer should be permitted to remain in the industry. He noted Dutrow had been sanctioned more than 64 times involving various rules’ problems since 1979.
The racing board later called Dutrow 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.”