The New York Racing and Wagering Board has been handed a golden opportunity.
While much effort is expended in the interest of improving the image and public perception of racing, little has been done to suggest that the sport's leaders and regulators have the will to act with authority when punishing those who arrogantly, and with contempt for the betting public and regulators, flaunt an unmistakable disregard for the rules.
At some point, an individual who continues to violate the rules of racing forfeits through his own actions the ability to be in the game.
”-- Ed Martin, ARCI president
While, in the main, those whose livelihoods are derived from a share of purses comply with the rules of racing, the trainer whose results defy both statistical probability and logic is a phenomenon as old as the sport. Often, they are one step ahead of regulators and testing labs in want of sufficient funding. Always they are subject of suspicion both from their contemporaries and the public. Eventually their transgressions are detected, but no matter how many or for how long a time they skirt the rules, the punishment almost never is appropriate for what is at times a long and deep record of transgression. Sometimes, a suspension of 30, 60 or 90 days is simply insufficient, a minor inconvenience.
Now, according to the Daily Racing Form, the New York board has been asked to answer the question: When is enough, enough?
Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, last week sent a letter to the New York board asking that the state's regulators consider revoking trainer Richard Dutrow Jr.'s license. Martin, who from 1997 to 2005 served as executive director of the New York board, issued the missive after last Wednesday's announcement that the New York stewards had suspended Dutrow 90 days for two infractions. In his letter, Martin asked the board "to show cause as to why his license should not be revoked given what appears to be a lifetime pattern of disregard for the rules of racing."
"At some point, an individual who continues to violate the rules of racing forfeits through his own actions the ability to be in the game," Martin wrote. "At some point, enough is enough."
Martin notes in the letter that since 1979, Dutrow has been sanctioned at least 64 times for various rules violations in nine different states at 15 racetracks, an impressive record of transgression. In addition to "numerous" medication violations, Dutrow has been sanctioned for "failure to adhere to licensing requirements, entering ineligible horses, and conduct detrimental to racing involving false or misleading statements."
There is something to be said for versatility.
In his most recent brush with the authorities, Dutrow, who has horses stabled in New York and Florida, was suspended 60 days by the stewards for the finding of the Class 3 drug Butorphanol in the post-race sample of Fastus Cactus, who won the third race at Aqueduct on Nov. 20, 2010. The board handed Dutrow another 30 days for hypodermic needles found in his barn during a search on Nov. 3. Dutrow, of course, has appealed both penalties and, having been granted a stay, is allowed to continue training until the case has been heard.
The New York board should set a hearing date that does not afford the luxury of months during which Dutrow may win dozens of races, but won't. Due process is important in the judicial system, but within the confines of a racing jurisdiction there is a point at which it serves only to facilitate further cheating and deepen if not misplace public suspicion.
This is not a man intimidated by authority. Dutrow dismissed a subpoena from a congressional committee to testify during a hearing on injuries to thoroughbreds a few years ago, a bit of posturing for the electorate that produced nothing. When most people are summoned to Washington to testify before Congress, they show up as did every other individual subpoenaed to that hearing. Yet, only an empty seat and Dutrow's name plaque appeared on C-SPAN that day. There were no sanctions for his failure to appear. Nor have past transgressions slowed Dutrow. When he has been suspended, an appointed assistant conducted business as usual. Cleveland Johnson, at such times, has led the New York trainer standings.
Dutrow has been a focused, multifaceted and international violator. There is, it appears, no authority that he respects.
While serving a suspension in 2005, Dutrow was found to have been in contact with his barn. This resulted in another suspension and a $25,000 fine. In the same year he served 60 days -- reduced from 120 -- and was fined several thousand dollars for a mepivacaine positive involving the horse Farmer Jake in 2003 and a clenbuterol positive involving the horse Starship Smokester in 2004. Dutrow was also fined for a violation of the claiming rules after he claimed, then resold a horse to an owner who was ineligible to claim.
In 2007, Dutrow was fined and suspended for providing misleading information about the horse Wild Desert leading up to the 2005 Queen's Plate at Woodbine, a race that horse won with the late Bobby Frankel named as trainer.
In 2009, Dutrow was banned for 30 days for a clenbuterol positive on Salute the Count, who finished second in a stakes at Churchill Downs the day before Dutrow won the 2008 Kentucky Derby with Big Brown.
While he plays the game at its highest level, Dutrow has served only as a reminder that there is no real consequence to habitual disregard of rules designed to level the field. Every horse he saddles, no matter the location or importance of the contest at hand, is no less suspect than the trainer. And Dutrow is suspect the moment he drives through the stable gate.
Dutrow presents himself as a dedicated horseman devoted only to the animals in his charge. The long and damning record suggests otherwise. In this case, enough was enough a long time ago and New York regulators would do well to take a stand, revoke Dutrow's license and send a message that there is indeed a point at which the punishment is appropriate to the offense, in this case a lifetime dedicated to offense.
If racing, as an industry, is concerned with the public perception that habitual violation of rules is business as usual, this is an opportunity to make a statement, though revocation of Dutrow's license is not something done easily once an attempt to do the right thing is suffocated by lawyers.
From a bettor's standpoint and for the greater good of racing, enough is indeed enough and the time has come for regulators in New York to take a stand. Perhaps their colleagues elsewhere will be emboldened when faced with a transgressor of Dutrow's ilk. Then again, he may be in a class of his own.
Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award, and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He also has been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.