Banning Racing's 'Bad Boy' - by Evan Hammonds

 (Originally published in the October 22, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Evan Hammonds  

By Evan Hammonds

The decade-long ban and $50,000 fine handed down to trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board Oct. 12 was one of those stories that crossed over from the “racing” segment of the daily news churn to the mainstream. Headlines of a Kentucky Derby-winning trainer being ruled off racetracks in New York for 10 years conjure up dirty visions of scandal, cheating, and race-fixing in Thoroughbred racing. That’s not exactly the image the industry is trying to portray.

A few might argue that Dutrow is being made a scapegoat, that many of the 64 reported violations in nine states were for relatively minor violations such as not having the right paperwork for a horse, bringing a horse late to the paddock, and marijuana positives from the ’70s and early ’80s. However, the discoveries of the painkiller butorphanol in a urine sample of one of Dutrow’s runners in 2010 and hypodermic needles in a Dutrow barn were the tipping point, coming on the heels of Congressional threats of federal intervention if the sport didn’t clean its own house.

Those discoveries, plus the sheer number of violations and Dutrow’s seeming disregard for the rules have made the trainer a poster child for racing’s ills. Thus, the New York board’s action signals a major turning point from the industry’s history of slap-on-the-wrist penalties from regulators who have long handed out minimal fines and meaningless, short-term probations. The suspension was handed down to both punish Dutrow for his laundry list of violations and to send a message to the racing community that now is the time to draw a line in the sand. In order for the game to get cleaner, regulators need to get meaner.

Dutrow, far from an innocent bystander, was nevertheless in the wrong place with the wrong infraction at the wrong time.

Not in recent memory has a trainer been handed down so stiff a punishment.

One of the most prominent suspensions in recent years occurred in 2007 when the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority suspended trainer Patrick Biancone after the discovery of cobra venom in his Keeneland barn. The commission suspended Biancone for six months, and the trainer agreed not to seek a license for an additional six months. The suspension was extended to a year after the commission determined Biancone had violated the terms of the initial suspension.

Just three years ago Dutrow had scaled the pinnacle of the racing world, having saddled Big Brown to victory in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and the Preakness Stakes (both gr. I) while having a stable of graded stakes winners such as Benny the Bull, Kip Deville, and Frost Giant. In the wake of runner-up Eight Belles breaking down just past the finish line in the Derby, Dutrow unabashedly told national media that his classic winner—as well as all of his other horses—was routinely treated with the steroid Winstrol (stanozolol) even though he admitted he wasn’t sure of its benefits. While the drug was not illegal in most racing jurisdictions at the time, administration of anabolic steroids was seen in the public’s eye as a case of a trainer going to the edge—and perhaps beyond—to gain an advantage.

For now, racing’s bad boy has been granted a 30-day stay by a New York state judge, and an appeal will move the judgment from the NYSRWB to the state’s courts. We assume he’ll get a fair shake in the process. However, Dutrow has pushed the envelope with his training methods, and he’s pushed the buttons of state regulators from coast to coast.

The pendulum is swiftly swinging in favor of a cleaner game with the abolishment of steroids and more stringent guidelines for race-day medications, including Salix. However, racing’s regulators must be careful and can ill afford to pick and choose whom to penalize. Many in the industry view Dutrow’s 10-year ban as a positive step, but racing will only move forward if medication positives and rule violations are sanctioned with a level of consistency.

The ruling against Dutrow may have one sticking point. Trainer responsibility rules for drug positives were imposed at a time when most trainers had their horses under one shedrow. Testing has become very sophisticated, and the sport’s largest trainers today have multiple stables at multiple locations with multiple jurisdictions. However, regardless of the size of a trainer’s barn, a positive is a positive. There’s a level of fairness we all must adhere to, and the same rules need to apply to everybody.


Leave a Comment:

Needler in Virginia

Rick Dutrow has mooned the racing rules for years and it's about time racing made him pull up his big boy panties and deal with it! It's about time he got caught; it's about time he got more than  "shame on you"; it's about time racing realizes its' face is dirty and Dutrow is one of the reasons. Ten years sounds just about right to me; after that length of time, maybe the rules will have passed Dutrow so far by that he can't figure them out or catch up, ANYWAY!

You can probably tell I'm not a huge fan of his; I can't be a fan of someone who so shamelessly admits to drugging the Derby & Preakness winner, and then allowing the Belmont to play out as it did. Now THAT'S what racing really needed. The sheer number of violations Dutrow has had are staggering, especially when viewed as the ones we know about. Who knows how many more there are? Whether or not a trainer has one stall or thirteen barns full, he is ultimately responsible for the care and treatment of all the horses in the stable. If a trainer has so many horses he can't keep track of what's going on, then he has too many horses or a lousy management style.

Well done to New York and California for trying to stop the Dutrows in racing, but there a few more of his ilk you might just want to take a look at............

CHeers and safe trips to almost everyone.

18 Oct 2011 6:14 PM

Dutrow had medication violations while he was under probation for prior drug violations.   He's been given MORE than enough chances.  He has proven his disregard for rules in any form (paperwork, timing, medication, training practices, etc).  The sport is better without him.  Owners who send him horses are enablers.  It is past time that violations related to a horse follow that horse so the owners are also held responsible for their choices in trainers.   Dutrow's history is well known so owners cannot claim innocence.  It is past time for Dutrow to go, and others like him.

18 Oct 2011 7:08 PM

Your column was read with great interest. It was anticipated by myself that some insight would be realized. I was wrong! Here are some statements made that are indeed puzzling

"Not exactly the image racing is trying to portray" What is that image?

"most trainers had horses under one shedrow" Most trainers DO have their horses under one shedrow! Only a handful of trainers are at multiple tracks, Are you suggesting "special" rules for them?

18 Oct 2011 7:42 PM

I, for one, am hopeful that Dutrow wins in the courts.

How many times is a person punished for doing worng? It would appear in some instances, i.e., the marijuana bit, that he has been penalized 3 times--once by the courts, once by the race track, and now by NY State's racing commission.

Over 30 years worth of 'stuff' to use against him? Do all the various states have regulationsthat state anythibg you ever do will count against you forever?  Do any of them say 10 infractions and your're done forever, or 10 years, or 5 years?

I'm not in the business; I love horse racing and believe this is excessive.  Taking away a man's livelihood is serious business.

18 Oct 2011 8:00 PM
Karen in Indiana

The statement was made when the 10 year ban was handed down that, while Mr. Dutrow loves the horses, he loves winning more. They made the right call to ban him. This man has been given so many chances to straighten up and fly right that there is no wonder he thumbs his nose at the rules. And how is it loving a horse or doing right by it to give it a painkiller and send it out to a race in which the horse finishes last? And why are owners leaving their horses with a man who has had so many violations? Could it be that they also like winning more than they care for their horses? Sorry, but someone who has had that many chances and that many violations should find another way to make a living.

18 Oct 2011 8:55 PM

nice job on OP. Are model rules for multiple violators coming with consideration of severity of each offense. It is, after all, every trainer's nightmare to make an innocent mistake.

18 Oct 2011 9:20 PM
Barbara W

In every area of sports, there is always a segment of its participants trying to obtain an "edge". The only way to make a "fair" playing field is for all the rules to be enforced all the time. These trainers are not minimum wage earners. They earn enough to ensure that their houses are in order. If more assistants are necessary, so be it. What is missing, unfortunately, seems to be the desire to play fair. Different rules for different tracks? Make them the same and enforce them. Horseracing's audience is drifting away , for one reason, because many feel that rules are only rarely enforced. Unfortunately, the poor horses can be the losers. And they have no voice.

18 Oct 2011 10:10 PM

I say----Good Ridance!!! One down more to come.

18 Oct 2011 10:47 PM

Can't NYRA deny stable space until this mess is resolved.

19 Oct 2011 12:12 AM

In my humble estimation, Biancone's penalty was not severe enough and Dutrow's is a little more fitting. How about three strikes and you are out? Hmmm? You go sell insurance, or start a pool cleaning business, but you are done with racing. The general public sees horses as pets - not dispensable items in an industry. The quicker racing gets a grasp on that and starts protecting the animals, the better its chances of survival.

19 Oct 2011 12:19 AM
Rachel NH

What's wrong with all of this is that Rick Dutrow is also being punished by the board for past violations that the board felt he hadn't been punished/fined enough for. We don't have Ex Post Facto justice in the USA.

He should have been punished for what the infraction in front of them was under their current rules, period.

Now, in the future, if they want to pass a new rule that they can also punish you for your past offenses they feel you didn't get enough punishment for...

We need a national regulatory board and oversight.

19 Oct 2011 5:57 AM
Your Only Friend

Until all states agree what is legal and what is not and all abide by penalties set down by other will always carry blackeye. If States cannot agree on issues then maybe National Racing Commission should be put in place. What a horrible thought.....another commissioner.

19 Oct 2011 8:50 AM
Criminal Type

Mr Hammonds, I have a question, actually it may be several questions. During the period of time we are talking about that all of these violations occured to Mr Dutrow, were the drugs in question substances used normally in race horses and withdrawn from use in the horse prior to the race to allow the substance to dissipate from the animals system in order to test within specific or below specific levels. Or, Where these drugs that were not allowed for use in race horses at all. Is it possible that one particular horse's physiology differs from the next as far as the normal time it would take for a substance to be out of the horses system or within acceptable levels ?

How would Mr Biancones Cobra Venom compair to Mr Dutrows Butorphanol ? Are they similar violations ? What was in the syringes found in the barn ? How often are those so called minor violations, lateness to paddock, etc commited by other trainers? Is it something that happens frequently?

I am not defending Rick Dutrow, but I think his biggest offense is not thinking before speaking or acting. However, in this case, his very outspokeness may have contributed to his downfall by making him a target for increased scrutiny by racing officials.

Although I appreciate the efforts by the powers that be in racing jurisdictions around the country and world to regulate the sport and implementing rules and procedures to maintain the integrity of the sport as well as the safety of the horses, I have to say, the penalty seems extremely harsh. The NY state regultors are effectively removing Rick Dutrows ability to make a living for the next ten years. It just doesn't seem like the right solution.

19 Oct 2011 9:35 AM

I have little sympathy for Dutrow.  He knew he had a target on his back and yet he continued to at the very least ignore tightening policies in his own operations, flouting the rules, and, in effect, thumbing his nose at those charged with oversight. In the public's mind, and in the mind of many within the sport, he represents all that they want to get away from. Owners who send their horses to him to train will think twice (hopefully) and his operation may shrivel up. Unfortunately, with the delay tactics his lawyers will use to keep him in business, he will in effect render moot any attempt by the regulators to shut him down. There was a similar suspension in Great Britain recently, a 4-year ban of a trainer there, and he decided to retire.  Let's hope Dutrow may do the same and save us all from a lengthy, protracted legal battle to keep a cheater in business.  

19 Oct 2011 10:59 AM

No sticking point as far as I'm concerned, a positive is a positive.  I take my trainers responsibility VERY seriously and I expect every other trainer to do the same.  As far as I'm concerned, Dutrow should be ruled off for LIFE.

Mr. Dutrow routinely treated all of his horses with Winstrol, even though he admitted he wasn’t sure of its benefits.  What a jackwagon!  He is just another trainer who "trains" with a needle.  Were it not such a serious issue, it would be laughable.    

19 Oct 2011 11:06 AM
Sandi Becker

He's going to get away with breaking all the rules!  I can see the stewards giving in!!

19 Oct 2011 11:30 AM
Stellar Jayne

As a lover of horses and thoroughbred racing it is about time someone got tough with trainers and owners - Dutrow and others like him.  The only discipline meted out in the past is a soft slap on the hand and a monetary fine that is a joke!  I'm not happy that NY is giving him a 30 day stay.  

I love Big Brown he is a grand horse, he just happened to be in the wrong barn with the wrong trainer and owners.  To this day and beyond I maintain that Eight Belles won the Derby - why?  She wasn't on drugs and Big Brown was!

19 Oct 2011 11:41 AM

If the trainer-responsibility rule is no longer valid because horses are spread out among other assistants in other barns, then perhaps stables are getting too big. In the end, whoever gets the glory has to take the responsibility as well. Who else can we hold accountable for the safety and welfare of our horses? I think Mr. Dutrow is, to a large extent, reaping the consequences of his attitude to the rules and his violations over the years. Now, at last, we have his attention! As for the overall problem of drugs and horses ... I own dogs at the moment and have in the past owned horses and managed my own stable( hunter/jumpers and school horses mostly). I have been fortunate enough to have found excellent vets who I absolutely trusted BUT - at no time and in no situation have I ever blindly accepted their using drugs or treatments about which I was not given full explanations, both the benefits and the risks. If it goes into my animal, I have to know what it does, how it does it and what other perhaps less desirable things it does. I think someone responsible for other people's animals should insist on nothing less!I am still not convinced Big Brown's crash in the Belmont was not related to the withdrawal of a hormone his system had come to rely on and might not yet have begun producing for itself naturally as fully as it did later. Sort of like prednisone, which can be troublesome when withdrawn. Regardless - we have only trainers and, to some degree, owners to take responsibility for these horses. I hope Mr. Dutrow can survive the duration of his ban because he has merit and can contribute positively to the sport. It's just that he's got to follow the rules and do what's really in the best interest of the horses.

19 Oct 2011 11:45 AM

Who will miss Dick Dutrow at the track? This is my question. I know as a gambler I sure will not! I mean him with IEAH Stable and Michael Iavarone what a low class bunch if you ask me. The whole bunch of them rubbed me wrong from the get go. I am glad he is being banned, he brings nothing but a troubled past to horseracing. This was a bright spot for racing as far as I am concerned having him sitting on the sidelines. I say its about time!! Good luck at the windows everyone....

19 Oct 2011 1:05 PM
Alicia McQuilkin

Regardless of whether a trainer is present of the time of the infraction, just like in any other industry, they are responsible for the actions of their employees. He's also responsible for screening who he hires, ie: their ethical principles and willingness to follow rules.

And if he wanted to save face he should've immediately terminated the responsible party and made it public knowledge (without revealing names). I dare say that would've made a major statement to the NYRA as well as anyone else.

19 Oct 2011 1:58 PM
A Horsey Canuck

Well put, Evan. I'm only an observer and horse racing fan. I'm also a former horse owner, albeit not with the racing industry. In my opinion, Rick Dutrow got a break with the 10-yr ban and this 30-day stay is a joke. The man broke so many rules, at so many race tracks over so many years and with so many horses. He just seems so arrogant while knowingly contradicting the rules. If, as he says, he cares about the horses, then he sure does have a strange way of showing it. Again, in my opinion, I say "throw the book at him" and pave the way to rid the industry of those like Mr. Dutrow and allow those honest trainers and owners to race and care for their horses in the manner in which they and their animals deserve. Just my opinion.

19 Oct 2011 3:30 PM

10 years, babe.

19 Oct 2011 3:43 PM

Lucky we live in a country where we have a justice system in place,that you have your day in court....Dutrow kinda comes off like a @#&#%!!!!! huh? You people talk and talk about him for years..."hes a crook!" blah blah......oh yea tell me the stimulant he used to make a horse run better again......whats the name again? waiting......hurry.......what? he never used a stimulant?  Of course he did! He was banned for 10 years! No! seriously tell me.....What did he use to cash a bet? Hes a crook so he bets right?OH! I know dutrow and he doesnt bet....He must though because he is a crook!   Well at least he looks like a crook....i just dont like him! hes cocky...So the things he gave horses are the equivelent to humans, as giving someone asprin?? SO WHAT! Too much asprin cant be good for a horse...I LOVE HORSES! I DONT WANT THEM RUNNING WITH A TUMMY ACHE! Look! it says here he gave a horse something to reduce swelling! If you love a horse, why reduce inflammation, and make the horse feel better.....BURN HIM AT THE STAKE I SAY!!!!!...ANYONE WHO TELLS YOU HE IS A CROOK IS A FOOL!!! HES just SLOPPY.....But we keep hearing this talk about him!!! and i dont like his face! .....................SEE YOU IN COURT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

19 Oct 2011 4:51 PM

The racing industry has to get a lot tougher, a lot quicker, on these kinds of infractions so Dutrow is a good place to start.  I hear so much moaning about the demise of the industry.  Yes, much is due to the economy, but a huge amount is due to lack of interest in an industry that is seen by the public as being cruel to animals, as well seeing this industry as one that keeps feeding a very dark underbelly.  Dutrow needed to go a long time ago, and so do many others.  There is only one way to clean up the illegal medications, the cheating, the lying, the hedging that goes on.  Industry leaders need to make these all unacceptable and move quickly to apply fines and suspensions.  It's this kind of pressure that will make someone think twice before cheating and endangering the horse in order to win a race.

19 Oct 2011 7:30 PM

I'm a licensed insurance agent. I would have lost my license a very, very long time ago if I accumulated such a list of minor violations like Mr. Dutrow.  Rest assured, the State of Texas would have no problem forcing me to make a living in some other line of work. Make no mistake, most of these are very minor violations, but there is a cumulative effect and a pattern of blatent disregard for the rules.

As for the argument that he is being punished for past transgressions, that just doesn't wash. The penalty for a 2nd DUI is harsher than that for the first.  The penalty for a 3rd, much worse than the second. It's the same principle. Unfortunately, it just took 64 violations to get to this point.

20 Oct 2011 11:21 AM
Old Horse Lover

I think he deprived himself of making a living in the business.No one is above the rules and when you begin to think you are you evidentualy step right over the line.So no one did it to him he did it himself.Maybe others will take a look at themselves and clean up there front doors and backdoors.Owners who turn a blind eye are just as accountable as the trainers.

Just my opinion.

20 Oct 2011 2:28 PM
Ida Lee

When I see the words "bad boy" I think of my miniature pinscher puppy stealing my undies and hiding them in his crate NOT Dutrow getting away with the crap he gets away with.

20 Oct 2011 4:22 PM
Dawn in MN

I appreciate every single comment I have read, all of them.  This conversation is very important to the future of Thoroughbred racing.  Every voice has something important to add to the conversation.

I agree with those who have expressed that racing needs to develop and enforce consistent, clearly communicated, national standards and penalties.

As someone else stated, horses are viewed as pets in this country.  Racing’s public relations are damaged when mainstream media reports what the public will perceive as a trainer being suspended for 10 years for drugging horses. Take into consideration the fact that animal protection groups are making people aware that Europeans are eating the Thoroughbred equivalent of Fluffy the pet, and that even mainstream media reports cases of neglect and then wonder why the sport is dying!

Legal history is full of cases where those in positions of power come down hard on the man-of-the-hour at the time the enforcers decide to crack down.

I love to follow the sport of Thoroughbred racing.  I will continue to struggle with my conscience about the realities of this sport but continue to watch racing because the thrill of watching those beauties run keeps me coming back.  

About Dutrow...I was a big fan of Big Brown, and I know horses, but that is the horse not the trainer...I don't know Mr. Dutrow well enough to comment on him as a person.  

20 Oct 2011 5:35 PM
Paula Higgins

Rachel in NH I agree with you. He should be punished for the recent violations and not the laundry list from the distant past, which he has been sacntioned for already. 10 years is Draconian in my opinion. If he was involved in real abuse or mistreatment of his horses, I could see a 10 year, or better yet, permanent ban. But I do not believe that is what he is being accused of.  Yes, he should be suspended for a period of time, but 10 years is excessive. We are talking about someone's livelyhood here. Along with a more reasonable suspension, I would put him on notice that a future siginifcant violation would result in a permanent ban. Frankly, Cobra venom bothers me a heck of alot more than Winstrol.

20 Oct 2011 9:56 PM

"However, racing’s regulators must be careful and can ill afford to pick and choose whom to penalize."

Unfortunately there are so many regulating commissions,with rules varying from state to state and track to track, that it is almost impossible for trainers not to be at the mercy of someone who has an axe to grind.

21 Oct 2011 7:56 AM
Karen in Texas

I, like Criminal Type, have questions about specifics not explained in the article. The switch from the NY Racing Board to the state court system may help to provide answers for the fans that would not otherwise be available. It will be interesting to see how this case against Dutrow proceeds.

21 Oct 2011 6:04 PM

Yes, we are talking about someone's livelyhood.  And that someone, Mr. Dutrow, should take his responsibility as a trainer seriously.  If you can't or won't handle the responsibility your license carries, YOU DON'T DESERVE IT!  After 64 violations, minor or not, it's time for Mr. Dutrow to find a new vocation.

22 Oct 2011 10:22 AM

The public perception of cheating extends to Salix and Bute.

Running an animal while drugged constitutes cruelty and, as mentioned in the TDN blog, should be treated as criminal.  Profiting from animal cruelty should be punishable by prison time, and tried in a criminal court.  No different here than it was for Michael Vick.

"Too big to fail" doesn't hold water in any arena, let alone at the track.  We have the means to end this drug-cheating, and it is widespread, with suspensions coast-to-coast.  On the backside it is an open secret that this stable or that is juiced.  Zero-tolerance is the first-line defense, and jail time is the clean up operation for all those whose cruelty is thus exposed.

Lesser measures will be seen as half-hearted, for an industry which will then be seen as exploiting, then processing horses.  This magnificent sport deserves better; its' athletes should never be treated like grist for the money-mill.

22 Oct 2011 11:24 AM
Grande Fan

This industry needs a national base - same rules for all states/tracks. If NTRA doesn't implement leadership the government will. We CAN police ourselves if there is a national standard and ruling body. Dutrow is many things to many people, but he is responsible for his actions, his horses, and his employees. If you don't like the rules and responsibilities - don't take the job. No one forced Dutrow to take a trainers license or for owners to add to his stable. As for taking away his livelyhood - many of us have lost jobs and had to retrain in a new career field. I believe Dutrow is at least that talented.

22 Oct 2011 9:05 PM

Dutrow deserves a sanction but does the penalty fit the crime? It will be interesting to see how the courts view this matter. Was Dutrow singled out? Is this punishment based on ex post facto circumstances? It could be argued that this ruling did add new penalties or extend the term for a similar violation. Clearly the punishment was far and above greater than received by any of his peers at a similar level. The bottom line-does any racing governance have the authority to issue any punishment it desires. If so, Dutrow and others are toast...

22 Oct 2011 9:36 PM

Racing in America is going down the tubes. Short fields running for obscene amount of money with mares bred off 10 percent. The Europeans come here every year and clean up at the Breeders Cup. The ills of racing in the US can hardly be blamed on Rick or any other trainer. The Feds threatening to take over spooked the Commissions into acting. Still, nothing will change with suspending Rick. Burton Sipp got his license back only after nine years of a life time suspension. Go figure. Cleaning up the industry? Hardly. Just more spin to avoid the inevitable solution to racing in the US . . . fewer tracks, fewer racing days, artificial insemenation to improve the breed, and stop breeding the feet of the horses. But, that's just me . . .

24 Oct 2011 7:17 AM
Ida Lee

I read somewhere that you can tell what a person is really like by the way he treats animals. So as it relates to is what it is...

24 Oct 2011 10:50 AM
Sue MacGray

I realize it's his livelihood but he's thumbed his nose at the rules (as they are) long enough. If he took his vocation so seriously, why did he play so fast and loose with it? The general public doesn't have a very positive perception of the industry and trainers like Dutrow are the reason why. I don't have a lot of sympathy for him. I agree with Grande Fan above, he'll have to find a new line of work, or come back and rebuild. Others have had to do the same. It's unfortunate if he's being made an example, but then again, others may think twice about how they conduct themselves, if they think they might actually be punished, instead of receiving a slap on the wrist.

25 Oct 2011 8:45 AM
steve from st louis

Racing should insist on "oats, hay and water" but that would disqualify probably 99% of the stallions standing in this country, who pass on their need for medication to their offspring. Eliminate any and all race-day medication and racing, as we know it, would come to an end. There wouldn't be enough horses who could stand training to fill race cards.

25 Oct 2011 10:29 AM
Dick Downey

From reading the comments, it's pretty easy to see who's buddies with Dutrow, and he doesn't have very many of them.

25 Oct 2011 12:39 PM

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