Recently suspended Vyjack trainer Rudy Rodriguez will get a chance to fulfill his Kentucky Derby dream this season.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission License Review Committee April 16 recommended Rodriguez conditionally be approved for a license in the state. Rodriguez will be required to use a video camera to maintain 24-hour surveillance of Gotham Stakes (gr. III) winner Vyjack while the horse is on the Churchill Downs grounds for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Noting recent medication overages this year and in recent years, the committee decided to conduct a hearing on Rodriguez's license request. During that hearing, Rodriguez said he intended to place a camera in Vyjack's stall, which will be in Dale Romans' barn on the Churchill backstretch, if he is approved for a license.
Committee chairman Burr Travis said he sees no problem with the committee's camera requirement for a single Kentucky Derby trainer.
"He proposed it, (Rodriguez) and Mr. Romans. They agreed to it. We just made it formal, put it in writing," Travis said. "We did it based on their suggestion, their proposal to get the license. If they want to do it, let's do it."
Travis said Kentucky stewards sent Rodriguez' application to the committee for review after New York state regulators in March imposed a 20-day suspension and fined Rodriguez $7,500 after flunixin was found in his horses in two different races last year. A review of ThoroughbredRulings.com shows Rodriguez has at least three additional medication positives since March 2011 in Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania.
In extensive questioning of Rodriguez, the committee covered all of those violations along with a current New York investigation in which a Rodriguez horse tested positive for Banamine (flunixin) in March. Rodriguez believes someone broke into his barn and administered the medication, which is when he noted the need for cameras in his barn.
Rodriguez said he previously had cameras in the barn but his horses were moved and the cameras were not moved at the same time.
Rodriguez contends that previous overages were minor, caused by horses being administered drugs an hour or two too late. Rodriguez admits the March positive is many times over the limit but he believes the high level points to tampering.
"There's a lot of jealousy in this business," Rodriguez said. "Our horses have been running very, very good."
One of the committee's major concerns about Rodriguez' record occurred before his training career when he was an exercise rider for Rick Dutrow Jr. Rodriguez received a seven-day suspension and $2,500 for infractions related to his involvement with Wild Desert.
Dutrow was fined and suspended for supplying misleading information about Wild Desert, who won the Queen's Plate Stakes (Can-I) for trainer Bobby Frankel while Dutrow was suspended.
In 2011 the KHRC License Review Committee unanimously voted to not give Dutrow a racing licenseafter he talked about falsifying Wild Desert's workouts. The committee decision was backed up by Kentucky hearing officer Robert Layton.
"Dutrow's own admissions justify the committee's denial of his license application," Layton said in his decision, specifically noting the incident when Dutrow falsified a workout by Wild Desert at Monmouth Park. "Appearing before the committee, Dutrow also blithely justified his deceptive conduct as necessary and appropriate."
When Travis was questioning Rodriguez about his fine and suspension from New Jersey regulators because of his involvement with Wild Desert, the committee chairman noted he had heard the story of Wild Desert before. Rodriguez was fined $2,500 and suspended for a week for supplying false information and for conduct detrimental to racing. Rodriguez said he was just an employee doing what he was told by a trainer.
The committee was concerned that Rodriguez and his attorney, Karen Murphy, did not include the infraction on his Kentucky trainer's license application. They said they only thought incidents during his training career were pertinent, but KHRC deputy executive director Marc Guilfoil noted the charges rose above a typical riding infraction.
During the hearing, Rodriguez agreed to add the infraction to his license request along with his complete regulatory record as both a trainer and exercise rider.
During the hearing, owner and New York Racing Association Reorganization Board member Michael Dubb and Kentucky-based trainer Dale Romans spoke in favor of granting Rodriguez his license. Dubb said the committee should not punish Rodriguez because he once worked for Dutrow, who began serving a 10-year license suspension this year.
"His last boss may have been an idiot but he shouldn't be judged by that," Dubb said. "He's as hard a working trainer as I've ever had."
Romans said Rodriguez has worked hard to become a leading trainer at Aqueduct Racetrack.
"When Rudy was working as an exercise rider, he would stay the entire day," Romans said. "He didn't need to do that; he wanted to learn the game. He would be the first one there in the morning and the last one to leave. I think he's an extremely qualified horseman."
Rodriguez said he has been to the Derby as an exercise rider but has dreamed of making it to the race as a trainer. He plans to work Vyjack one time at Fair Hill Training Center and one time at Churchill before the May 4 classic.
"I guess that's everybody's dream," Rodriguez said. "If you don't dream of races like that, you don't belong in this business."
Rodriguez said the license application process has been difficult but that it was good to see people like Dubb and Romans rally to his defense.
"I tried to do what they asked me to do and answer all the questions they asked," Rodriguez said. "I've been on my own since I started training. I'm not going to look back. Hopefully the horses keep running like they are."