The opening salvo in a state hearing that could at least end the New York career of trainer Rick Dutrow focused on claims of an appearance of a conflict of interest by New York's top racing industry regulator.
“It’s at best an appearance of impropriety and at worst it’s collusion,’’ Michael Koenig, Dutrow’s lawyer, said May 31 after the first day of a hearing by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board deciding if the trainer’s license should be revoked after what regulators say has been a pattern of racing law violations over the years.
Koenig, repeating claims he made in the hearing, claimed that John Sabini, the racing board chairman, is one of the board members of the Racing Commissioners International, whose president, Ed Martin, first called on Sabini to revoke Dutrow’s license in New York.
Dutrow, whose fiery ways earned him both friends and opponents in the industry, was originally slapped with a 90-day suspension after officials found the painkiller butorphanol in a urine sample from Fastus Cactus, who finished last Nov. 20 in the third race at Aqueduct, and a subsequent discovery of hypodermic needles in a Dutrow barn. Dutrow has denied any knowledge or involvement in any alleged violations.
Koenig claims Dutrow’s due process is being violated on two fronts. First, he said, Dutrow is being “punished because he exercised his right’’ to appeal the 90-day suspension. After the appeal was made, Koenig said, the board said it was moving to revoke Dutrow’s license to operate in New York. Koenig called the board’s revocation move “punitive.’’
Secondly, Dutrow’s lawyer said there also may be an “improper link’’ between Sabini and Martin. A day after Dutrow’s suspension order was announced in February, Martin wrote the racing board in New York to press it to revoke Dutrow’s license, arguing that the latest case against the trainer was part of a long pattern of abuses involving more than 62 rules’ problems since 1979.
The racing board then upped the case against Dutrow to a full-blow revocation proceeding, arguing that his conduct has been “improper, obnoxious, unbecoming, and detrimental to the best interests of racing.”
Sources say papers were served May 31 on Sabini to seek his testimony in the Dutrow hearing. Koenig declined to say if he would seek Sabini’s testimony.
No decision is expected this week in the matter. A hearing officer is considering the charges and will recommend a final decision by the board headed by Sabini. A final decision could be up to a couple months away, officials say.
A racing board spokesman declined comment on claims made by Dutrow’s lawyer.
Dutrow’s lawyer is seeking to have the revocation order tossed out so the focus can be put on the two charges involving the 90 days’ worth of suspension.
In an interview, Koenig said he does not see how Sabini can end up being called upon to decide Dutrow’s fate given the ties he has with Martin, who is also a former executive director of the New York racing board.
The second day of the hearing, set for June 1, has been postponed a day and the case is expected to be wrapped up June 3 when Dutrow will present a number of character witnesses. Sources said Joe Torre, the former manager of the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, may submit video testimony on Dutrow’s behalf; Torre is a partial owner of a horse trained by Dutrow.