A New York appeals court has unanimously upheld the revocation of trainer Rick Dutrow's license by state racing regulators, a major setback for the colorful trainer's ability to keep working in the state.
Just a day before the opening of the Saratoga summer meet, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court said July 19 that the state Racing and Wagering Board's revocation of Dutrow's license was legally justified and based on a claim that he had "engaged in conduct that was improper and inconsistent with the public interest and the best interests of racing."
Dutrow has one more legal route to take if he wants: the Court of Appeals, which is New York's highest court. Sources said the stay Dutrow obtained last year from a lower state court to delay his revocation period remains in effect until the Court of Appeals decides whether or not to hear his case. That means Dutrow likely, for the immediate time being, can still train horses for the Saratoga Racecourse meet.
He has three horses entered on Saratoga's July 20 opening-day card. Dutrow has two horses entered at Saratoga and one at Finger Lakes on July 21.
Dutrow, through his lawyer, declined comment. “Obviously, Rick is disappointed, but he is optimistic in the end we will prevail because we continue to firmly believe we are right on the law,” said Michael Koenig, Dutrow’s Albany lawyer in the case.
Koenig said he is “disappointed and disheartened” by the court’s decision, which he said wrongly applied the standard of law on the matter of whether the state’s racing agency chairman should have removed himself from considering the Dutrow case.
“The correct standard is the near appearance of impropriety. The court said today we were unable to show actual bias, but that is not the correct standard under existing Court of Appeals law,” Koenig said.
Dutrow will file papers asking the state’s highest court to consider hearing his case, his lawyer said.
"The board is pleased with the court's decision,'' said Lee Park, a spokesman for the Racing and Wagering Board.
Dutrow's license last year was revoked (though regulators said he could re-apply in 10 years) and he was fined $50,000 for what officials said was a pattern of abuse involving various rules violations.
Originally, Dutrow was hit with a 90-day suspension after officials found the painkiller butorphanol in a urine sample from Fastus Cactus, who finished last in the third race on Nov. 20, 2010, at Aqueduct Racetrack. There was a subsequent discovery of hypodermic needles in a Dutrow barn.
The racing board later increased the penalty to a full revocation of his license, saying he is 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."
Dutrow, who maintained his innocence throughout, said racing board chairman John Sabini had been improperly influenced in his decision by Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International; Martin is a former executive director of the New York racing agency.
But the appeals court rejected Dutrow's allegations that he was denied a fair hearing, and said there was no evidence Sabini had been influenced to act on Martin's suggestion that the trainer be more harshly punished.
The court said, though, that there was "substantial evidence" of the racing agency's claims against Dutrow in the Fastus Cactus incident. The judges called "speculative" claims raised by Dutrow as possible alternative explanations for the positive test.
The court said the racing board "properly relied" upon Dutrow's long history of run-ins with regulators for forming the basis of its license revocation.
The 10-year punishment and fine, the court said unanimously, "was not so disproportionate to his proven, recurrent misconduct as to shock one's sense of fairness."