I’ve heard it said if you can’t say something better yourself, use a great quote. There are a few which come to mind here. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Elie Weisel said “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest”.
We live in a society that is quick to condemn. I think it would be a significant improvement if we were just as quick in correcting it when we get it wrong.
When you hear the name Rick Dutrow today, you immediately think of the trainer banned from the sport we all love, him included, for 10 years for cheating. You may or may not know how it is alleged he cheated, which or how many horses it allegedly affected, or if he even did it. Nonetheless, that’s the assumption that many people share. That’s the first thought at hearing his name. Not his Kentucky Derby victory, not his Breeders’ Cup Classic triumph–no, he’s the guy they banned 10 years. My first question is this, should we really destroy a body of work, a lifetime of achievement and dedication, without at least first hearing and digesting the facts?
I’d argue we need to do more than that. We need to determine what truly was done, what really happened and why. This is the very nature of justice in our country and the foundation and principles our nation was built upon. If you think this isn’t that important, then maybe this article is not for you. It is our intention to bring out facts, and follow that with reasonable, fair, and intelligent logic. If you absorb the facts, and separate them from the rumor and innuendo, then and likely only then, can you have a meaningful opinion. If your opinion is based on what you hear, what you don’t know, or just a lynch mob mentality, then it doesn’t really matter anyway.
When John Pricci wrote his recent article on Rick Dutrow for Horseraceinsider (HRI), I could not wait to read it. I knew it was going to be accurate, unbiased, and fact based. Verified facts. Here is a link to the article if you missed it . It can also be found on Horseraceinsider.com or PastTheWire.com. I knew this primarily for two reasons. The first is Mr. Pricci’s long standing reputation. He has been around a long time and has a no nonsense, tell it like it is, persona. He’s earned it. Of equal, if not greater importance, is Rick Dutrow himself. I spoke to Mr. Dutrow before the Pricci article came out.
Rick was hoping someone or some racing publication would take an interest in what happened to him. He was not looking to tell his story, however. No, frankly, his primary concern was for someone with some resources, to investigate the facts independently, verify them, and then report on what actually happened. I believe this is not the attitude or primary concern of someone with something to hide. It speaks to Dutrow’s honesty.
To really understand what happened to Rick Dutrow, you first have to know who he is. In the late 70’s, Rick was growing up in Maryland and learning about training race horses from one of the best, his dad, Richard E. Dutrow Sr. He was an accomplished, well known Maryland trainer with a reputation as an excellent horseman. Rick, like many a kid in the late 70’s, had some teenage issues with marijuana. Nothing serious, nothing that spoke towards his character, just normal, inquisitive teenage behavior.
The Dutrows had an extremely fast horse in the barn named Shimatoree. I remember him well and saw him race myself many times. The horse had not yet started and they decided to run him in the big time, New York. New York racing was the king back then. It was unrivaled. If you couldn’t win in New York, a championship was most unlikely, regardless of what you accomplished elsewhere. It was a different time and different era. Shimatoree came to New York deserving and ready, but a Buckram Oak speedster named Star Gallant was faster on debut. Both horses would go on to have successful stakes careers.
Despite running second, the trip put a taste for the big time into young Rick Dutrow. Rick was a confidant young man. He believed in his horsemanship skills. He had a knack around racehorses. He learned enough from his Dad to believe he could be successful on the big stage and he wanted it badly. He was so confidant and headstrong about going to New York that it sometimes caused rifts with his father. Senior did not want to move his operation just yet, though he would wind up doing so shortly thereafter, so, Rick went on his own.
When Rick arrived in New York, he immediately had licensing concerns. He knew he had the marijuana issue in his past and feared it would surface if he applied for a license, so he didn’t. Not at that point anyway. This was not as rare as you might think today. I was a hotwalker in Saratoga when I was 15, Aqueduct as well. My Dad had gotten more than a few of my friends summer jobs on the backside in their mid-teens. None of us were licensed at the time but this was not an irregular occurrence.
There was no Lasix allowed in New York back then. If you had a bleeder, you had to know how to work with them sans Lasix. Basically, if you had a horse that could not run without Lasix, it was considered a second stringer. There were a lot more classic hay, oats, and water trainers back then. Two very good ones were Tom Skiffington and Bruce Johnstone. After arriving in New York, Rick worked for both of them. Skiffington, a former steeplechase rider, was a fine trainer who worked under Burley Cocks and Frank Whiteley, of Ruffian fame. He trained Maxene, Chaldea, Fieldy, Anka Germania and many other stakes winners. Johnstone was another fine horseman. He trained for Villa Blanca Farm, who, at that time, had a lot of early success with the Secretariat runners. He trained stakes winners Viva Sec and Secretame. Rick was exposed to the classiest horseflesh and continued the mastering of his craft.
Although his father was a top Maryland trainer, this was no silver spoon story. Rick, unlicensed, was sneaking through a hole in the fence to get to work. When you want something bad enough, and love it enough, you’ll do things like that. There was sleeping in the car, and just getting by day to day. Things and ways understood by any true race tracker who had to pay their dues.
Rick was now well versed in two styles of training. He knew claiming horses from his days in Maryland. He knew how to figure out what ailed them, correct it and get the most out of them. He could spot a sore horse, an unhappy horse, and had an innate sense of figuring them out. It was always visible to him.
But he also had exposure to stake horses. The same principles but with some subtle twists. With stakes horses, you get them to progress, peak and maintain, as opposed to claiming runners who you get the most out of from race to race. Rick was confidant in his ability with both types of horses and as his confidence grew so did his self-assured ways. The same ways that at times caused rifts with his father. Confidence can often be taken for arrogance but it is not always the same.
Rick got a call from his Dad that he was sending a string to Monmouth and he wanted Rick to run things. He agreed and then decided to apply for his license. He got a New Jersey license and had an excellent meet running his father’s New Jersey string. After success at Monmouth in the summer, Senior decided to send Rick to New York with a string of 12 horses. Rick applied for his license but was declined. His brother Tony took over the string.
Tough times for sure, but nothing in comparison for what was to come. Rick re applied for a New York license and eventually played a big part in his father’s success there. I remember when they claimed Kings Swan and had a world of success with him. Kings Swan was a bad bleeder and his dad was tremendous at working with bleeders without Lasix. Rick was as well. He learned and absorbed everything. As his knowledge and ability grew, so did his confidence and belief in his own ability.
When Rick looks at a horse, he trusts his judgment more than anything. He feels he knows what he is looking at, and the best way to deal with it. I can’t find a horseman or veterinarian on the backside to disagree, even to this day. Only a select few have anything handed to them in The Sport of Kings. Rick wasn’t one of them. When his father passed, tough times followed despite Rick’s initial success. There was about a year spent sleeping in a barn with no horses. Rick never lost faith in his ability and kept pressing until he was able to put together a group to claim Churkin, from Gasper Moschera. Moschera was a perennial leading trainer in New York. Rick did well with Churkin and things snowballed. His New York career took off.
From having success off the claim, to moving claimers into stakes and allowance company, to nursing cheaper horses, to competing on the biggest stages The Sport of Kings has to offer, Rick did it all. He did it at every level from the bottom to the top and all in between.
Is it logical that someone with the background and experience of Rick Dutrow, someone who has won consistently at the highest level, even internationally would have to or even want to cheat to win a 14k claimer? Let’s come back to that.
Rick Dutrow’s resume and accomplishments in horse racing speak for themselves:
On the International stage he has won:
Dubai Golden Shaheen 2008
Godolphin Mile 2008
Woodbine Mile 2010
Kentucky Derby 2008
Major Stakes Wins:
Hopeful Stakes 2010
Woody Stephens 2010
Black Eyed Susan 2010
Hutcheson 2010, 2011
Swale 2009, 2010
Florida Derby 2008
Carter Handicap 2007
Coaching Club American Oaks 2006
Metropolitan Mile (Met Mile) 2006
Tom Fool Handicap 2006
Woodward Stakes 2005
Donn Handicap 2005
Pennsylvania Derby 2004
Massachusetts Handicap 2004
Clark Handicap 2004
Barbara Fritchie Handicap 2005
Ashland Stakes 2005
Kilroe Mile 2007
It doesn’t stop there either. He has also won The Sports Page 2000, Floral Park Handicap 2002, Pioress 2002, Cicada 2003, Comely 2003, Queens County 2003, 2004, Distaff Breeders’ Cup Handicap 2003, General George 2004, Stuyvesant 2004, Toboggon 2004, Demoiselle 2004, 2005, Jerome 2005, Davona Dale 2005, Maryland Breeders Cup 2005, Miner’s Mark Mile 2007, 2008, Schuylerville 2007, 2010, Meadowlands Cup 2007, Frank J DeFrancis Memorial 2007, Smile Sprint 2008, Sunshine Millions Dash 2009, Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap 2009, 2010, Sunshine Millions Sprint 2010, Skip Away 2010, Alysheba 2010, and the Jaipur 2010. He’s won over 1000 races, at every level. Logically, does someone who can compete with consistency, in these types of races, in so many jurisdictions, have to cheat to win a 14k claimer? Common sense says no but again we will come back to that.
Rick Dutrow was cast into the media spotlight in 2008, during The Triple Crown campaign of Big Brown. Who knows, had Big Brown won The Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown, things may have turned out differently. He didn’t and they didn’t. Big Brown was an immensely talented race horse from day one. That was never a secret. He was originally trained by Pat Reynolds, who I have known since I was a teenager. Pat is an excellent horseman with a good eye and he always loved Big Brown. I don’t believe he had any doubt he would win his debut race as a two year old at Saratoga. Big Brown won big, and created a buzz and following amongst racetrackers. Shortly thereafter, an interest in him was purchased by IEAH Holdings and his training was transferred to Dutrow. He won the Florida Derby from the 12 hole, extremely difficult at Gulfstream. I watched the race from my usual Gulfstream table in the Ten Palms, right up against the glass near the 1/16th pole. This horse could motor. I’d seen many a runner streak by that spot with four off the floor and he looked as good as any of them.
In just his fourth start, Big Brown won The Kentucky Derby, again from the outside post. Had it not been for that lone turf start as a two year old at Saratoga, Big Brown likely would have negated the Apollo jinx. He had been brought to the Kentucky Derby expertly by Dutrow and they were both now the focal point of the horse racing world.
When Joe Namath told a bunch of reporters The Jets would beat the Colts, he was sitting pool side in Miami surrounded by a bunch of blondes. He was brash, confidant, even cocky. The Jets won and he was lauded as a hero. But who’s to say who will be embraced for bold confidence or hated for the same reason? Horses racing is not the NFL; however, and who amongst us has not been humbled by a racehorse?
While Dutrow and his horse were in the media spotlight, it was business as usual to anyone who knew him and the way he carried himself. To the media he was a brash and confidant horse trainer who admitted on national television he used Winstrol, an anabolic steroid. This admittance should not have received the negative attention it did. Winstrol was legal at the time and likely was used by many trainers who were never chastised for it.
None of them were in that spotlight however. The light was white hot and unfriendly, likely fueled by the tragic and extremely visible breakdown of Barbaro in the 2006 Preakness. The intensity of the scrutiny grew when Big Brown’s Kentucky Derby also produced the horrible breakdown of the filly Eight Belles, who finished second. The timing was not right for a trainer with Dutrow’s personality to be on racing’s center stage. He was not one to tone things down for anyone though. He never had been.
Although Winstrol was legal at the time, Rick Dutrow took Big Brown off it. Hardly something you’d do to an undefeated horse on a classics run if you believed it gave him an edge. Rick felt Winstrol helped with their coat and appetite but not that it provided any type of advantage, fair or otherwise. Dutrow likes to run his horses back quickly, like in 3,4, or 5 days quick when conditions suit. He also likes about 30 days. Those two race spacings, would be his preference. He does not like running back in two weeks as required between The Kentucky and Preakness. He prefers additional time to get a read on his horse. Running back quickly is different. He only did that when he had a read on his charge and knew the rapid turnaround suited them. Forced to run according to the schedule of the races as opposed to one of his making, Dutrow stopped the winstrol. He did not want it to interfere with how he read and gauged Big Brown. He wanted to gauge him without anything affecting his coat or appetite. He trusted his judgment and would not allow anything to possibly alter it.
Big Brown won The Preakness impressively. Now we had a Triple Crown possibility added to the mix. Along with the excitement a Triple Crown produces, we had animal activist groups bad mouthing racing at every opportunity. This is nothing new to the sport. It’s always around and likely always will be.
There are inherent dangers to the game we love. Most of us dread the occurrences, do all we can to prevent them, and take care of the horses as best we can. Regardless, those opposed to the game group all participants together. The time and climate was ripe for a scapegoat, an example had to be made. Rick Dutrow was a perfect candidate. Along with his personality he had a history of violations. 72 violations was the number they threw around. And people believed it. Few questioned it. And 72 was taken at face value and there was little if any mention of what any of those violations were for. It was like that didn’t matter. Anyone with 72 violations had to be a cheater. There was more talk and chatter about that than the resume Rick had compiled over his long and outstanding career.
Big Brown was brought up to The Belmont as good as he could be. His ongoing foot problem resurfaced but proved only a setback and many thought he was a foregone conclusion to win the race. He was flat out faster than anyone else in the field and he figured to be able to go on cruise control early and get the 1 ½ mile trip; however, it was not to be. After a less than perfect trip into the first turn, Big Brown could not repeat his previous performances. He never looked comfortable and although he appeared physically fine, he was pulled up by his rider Kent Desormeaux and never finished the race.
Leading up to The Belmont, Dutrow announced Big Brown was running without Winstrol. There was an awful lot of chatter, gossip and concern over a legal drug although, what was not generally known, was that Big Brown dominated The Preakness, in one of his best races, without it.
At this point, at least you know where Rick Dutrow came from, and how. You know a little about his personality. You know what his training resume looks like and if you are a student of The Sport of Kings you know it is Hall of Fame worthy. You know he was banned for 10 years for allegedly cheating but odds are you still don’t know what he did or didn’t do. I’d hope you can also see what an easy target he became when a target was needed.
Before we get into the facts surrounding Dutrow, let’s understand what cheating is, as far as the phrase is used in this case. There are many forms of cheating but what is implied here is cheating to win a race, by use of illegal or controlled substances. This conjures up images of unscrupulous trainers walking around their shed rows with syringes, images of breakdowns, and abuse of animals. Powerful stuff. Especially for me, an animal lover who works with rescues, believes in no race day meds, and who at times is conflicted over my lifelong love for this great sport.
The confliction comes from seeing breakdowns. They are horrible and as any horseman or even horse player will tell you, breakdowns are common to cheaters. They almost have to be. Cheaters are giving horses “something” to make them run faster than they naturally can. Common sense tells us that will lead to breakdowns and many alleged to be cheaters show those statistics. Cheating by illegally masking pain or injuries would likely lead to even more breakdowns. Although this might only make a horse run to prior potential as opposed to out of their skin, it’s still cheating, and will increase breakdowns, likely more than even performance enhanced cheating. Breakdowns are going to happen regardless, but cheating, juicing, or whatever you like to call it is going to increase them.
With all you hear about Rick Dutrow, you almost never hear about his on track fatal breakdowns. If you are to believe the 10 year ban is just, and warranted, and the 72 violations are indeed what they imply, there has to be a lot of breakdowns. Even the cleanest of trainers would have some if they won over 1000 races. It would take a careful and skilled horseman, who only ran horses where they belonged, and when they were fit and right, to have no on track fatalities. They’d have to be lucky as well, as we know in races things happen, but the skill and caution would have to be there as well.
With all the cheating Rick Dutrow is alleged to have done, with all those 72 violations, Rick Dutrow went 11 years in New York without a fatal breakdown either in the morning or during a race. That is an astonishing statistic and fact. Especially given the allegations that his 10 year ban are based on. It defies common sense to think a cheater can win over 1000 races without a horse fatally breaking down at the circuit where they compete most.
With all the talk amongst racing officials about breakdowns and how to minimize them, one would think they’d want trainers like Dutrow. At the least they should consult with him on the issue. It defies common sense to think a trainer can win under the scrutiny of the world’s biggest races and on international stages and be cheating. It becomes almost laughable to think this same trainer has to or would cheat to win a 14k claimer. When you wear a bull’s eye; however, common sense and logic don’t apply.
72 violations are a lot by any stretch. They do show a pattern. Does that automatically justify a 10 year ban, well maybe, but that would depend on what the 72 violations show a pattern of. John Pricci’s somewhat exhaustive investigation chronicled in his article was only able to find 62 violations. There were 56 in the RCI database and another 6 in The New York State Gaming and Racing Commission databank. Of those 62 violations 2 were for illegal substances including what appeared to be a false positive for Butorphanol. The rest were for personal life transgressions as a youth, overages of legal medications, lack of foal papers on file, late to paddock, and failing to conduct business in a proper manner, etc. That includes things like taking a jockey off a horse late after giving them a call, or something similar. The pattern here is of a guy more focused on his training and horses than on administrative procedures. Yes a sloppy record, one that perhaps warrants a fine or something. Is it the record of a cheater however? Or one that justifies taking away one’s livelihood and tarnishing an outstanding career and body of work?
The two illegal substance rulings should get the most scrutiny. The first occurred in 2003 and involved a horse named Farmer Jake. He finished third in a six horse field. He came up positive for Mepivacaine. The second illegal substance positive was for Butorphanol which turned up in Fastus Cactus in 2010. This was the ruling that went a long way in getting the 10 year ban. As such one would like the evidence to be solid and not subjective. Butorphanol treats superficial and visceral pain in horses. Dutrow was accused of administering it within 96 hours of the race in question. At the time, according to testimony, Dutrow was the only trainer in New York to have a horse test positive for Butorphanol.
Of interest, Dr. Stephen Barker, The Director of the Equine Medication Surveillance Laboratory in Louisiana, testified on Dutrow’s behalf. He normally testifies for prosecutors and is considered an expert witness by both sides. Dr. George Maylin, The Director of The New York State Drug Testing Laboratory testified against him.
Dr. Barker refuted Dr. Maylin’s findings bringing up two key points. First the effects of Butorphanol only lasted 6 hours. There was none in the blood of Factus Cactus and only a small amount in his urine. Second, the manner in which the 96 hour withdrawal time was devised and implemented was flawed and one can be found positive even administering the drug 96 to 120 hours out. According to the most recent studies and even New York State policy Dutrow’s case would not be prosecuted under present conditions. Maylin even testified use of the drug as recommended can lead to a false positive. Worse yet Dr. Maylin himself stated in an NBC news interview that the statute governing post-race samples is so vague it doesn’t even state which methodology to use when testing for illicit drug use.
Is this the type of questionable and subjective medical evidence and documentation we should need to destroy a man’s career? John Sabini, Daniel Hogan, and Charles Diamond thought so and found Dutrow guilty.
I have often heard some of the loudest Rick Dutrow bashers complain racing management is filled at the highest levels with people who do not understand the game. Is the above ruling an example of that?
Applying reason to the picture we can look at the career of Factus Cactus, the horse alleged to have been juiced. Below you’ll see his lifetime past performances. Dutrow claimed the horse for 30k in March of 2010. He won two races with him for 25k, slightly lower in price than he took him for. He did win a 50k off the grass starter allowance with him but ultimately dropped the horse in for 14k where he again won. There were three losses mixed in there as well. I would call this moderate success. He won primarily for less than he was haltered for and ultimately was dropped in for 14k. I discussed this with Dutrow. As you can see from the comments the horse had a habit of bearing out in the stretch. I remember him finishing close to the outside rail on one occasion. Rick wanted to switch riders on the horse to Ramon Dominquez, who had a softer touch than Edgar Prado who had been riding him. Edgar had a tendency to take a hold of Fastus Cactus when he tried to get out, and that made it worse. Rick thought Dominquez’s soft touch would help. The owner, however, did not wish to switch riders. His son was Prado’s agent.
We all know when a horse goes from a “juice” guy to a “non-juice” guy, their form almost always declines. Usually rapidly. It stands to reason. If they get used to running with “help”, and you take that help away, it almost always has to show. Fastus Cactus improved when claimed from Dutrow by Naipaul Chatterpaul, and he changed to Dominquez like Dutrow wanted to. He won for 20k, ran decently in the Grade 3 Toboggon, placed 2nd in the Grade 3 Tom Fool, and even ran in the Grade 1 Carter. This is about as typical of a juicing trainer having no fatal breakdowns on their primary circuit (New York) in 11 years. It defies logic. Looking at Factus Cactus” form, did he need help to win for 14k? Would he have improved going to a new barn like that if Dutrow was what The New York State Racing and Wagering Board would have you believe?
The most questionable aspect of the whole procedure is yet to come. Rick Dutrow’s barn had been searched four times prior to the time when the syringes were allegedly found. All four of those prior searches took approximately 2.5 hours each. They produced nothing. The search that produced the syringes lasted less than 20 minutes. Investigator Joel Levenson went directly to Rick’s office. Rick was in Kentucky at the time. His assistant, Juan Rodriguez, was present. The investigator went directly to a desk drawer and removed a box of syringes.
Under cross examination, Investigator Levenson admitted that, on his initial report, he stated the box contained 6 cc syringes. He then admitted that, in fact, they were 4 cc syringes. He admitted not correcting his report even though a.) he knew the case would go to hearing and b.) the size of the syringes was not correct. He testified at the hearing that the syringes contained an opaque substance but the report indicated it was a clear fluid. He also admitted that on top of the two discrepancies, a person who had possession of these syringes for no less than two days, is someone not identified in the chain of custody.
The remainder of the details regarding the search are spelled out in John Pricci’s article. The discrepancies above while possibly the most serious from an evidentiary standpoint, are not the only ones. The entire procedure was polluted with inaccuracies such as who called who, who knew, who didn’t and who said what. If it didn’t involve destroying a career, it would almost be comical. Even Juan Rodriguez had to clarify to HRI that he never said he knew about the box of syringes prior to the search (as stated in the report) and only first saw them at the time of the search
Although not admissible in court, Rick Dutrow took a polygraph examination which he passed. He was asked about the syringes, Factus Cactus, and all his other violations.
Most of what we discussed and reviewed here involves the evidentiary weaknesses in the case against Dutrow. We’ve also explored why and how he likely became a target. We’ve also asked some questions that warrant some thought, and a review of the facts to answer, not simply labeling someone based on misinformation, inaccuracies and gossip.
Sadly for our industry, the issues with this ban do not stop here. There is a paper trail of communications between Kentucky and New York officials that indicate either, at worst, a collusion to ban Rick Dutrow or at best, an overzealousness to make an example of him. This paper trail can be reviewed in the HRI article.
The unsolicited offerings of Patti Cerda about the case and investigation provide another scary glimpse into what was really going on here. Patti is an ex NYRA employee with firsthand knowledge of both inner workings at NYRA and of the Dutrow investigation specifically. Patti denies any personal or friendship relationship with Dutrow in her conversation with HRI. As an ex-employee she can speak freely about what transpired without fear of losing her job, or restrictions imposed by any confidentiality agreement. At least one previous NYRA official is barred from speaking on the issue due to a severance package attached to which was a confidentiality agreement.
One might ask why would any confidentiality agreement be needed in a case that for the most part is or should be public record? Not only did Patti work in Security Operations at NYRA but she is also married to a Narcotics Detective who worked undercover. Concluding she knows a thing or two about investigations, evidence, and due process seems reasonable. Patti resigned from NYRA because she says she was being made to accept fraudulent immigration documents and social security cards for licensing purposes. She also states Rick Dutrow was set up and that Investigator Joel Levenson had tried to set her up once in the past as well.
If Rick Dutrow was so bad for the game as has been stated, why did ESPN fly to Kentucky with him for a segment on his Breeders’ Cup runners that year? Just another question in a long line of them that just do not make sense.
If this can happen to a trainer with a record like Dutrow’s and no real evidence or circumstances to warrant such a ban, then it can happen to anyone in the Industry. Nobody should be deprived of a livelihood because of self-confidence, even if perceived as arrogance. If this can happen in such a high profile manner, then one can only wonder how far up the chain this behavior by officials is condoned.
Rick Dutrow continues to wear the label the circumstances have placed upon him. He continues to serve the ban while exhausting every legal remedy to rectify this injustice. We continue to go to the races as if everything is okay. This isn’t okay and everyone who supports the industry should demand facts, fair investigation, and due process. After all, that’s what we brag this great country is all about.