Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dutrow's License Revoked for 10 Years

By Tom Precious

New York regulators revoked Rick Dutrow’s license for at least 10 years and fined him $50,000 for what they said has been a pattern of rules violations by the controversial trainer.

The three-member State Racing and Wagering Board reduced a far more serious penalty as proposed by the hearing officer in the case: lifetime revocation of his license.

Dutrow, who one board member said has been cited for violating various racing rules in nine states and 15 different tracks, is also barred from being on the grounds of any racetrack in New York during the 10-year period.

“Let this be a lesson to other people in the business,” said board chairman John Sabini.

Sabini said Dutrow “has repeatedly violated rules in jurisdictions across the country and a license is a privilege and not a right.”

But board member Daniel Hogan said providing a sunset period to the revocation is “more appropriate” than a lifetime ban for Dutrow.

Hogan said that while Dutrow loves the sport of racing, “He loved winning more and he wasn’t above breaking rules to win.”

Dutrow declined to comment after the hearing. But his lawyer, Michael Koenig, promised an appeal to the state courts; a hearing on a stay of the suspension is scheduled for Oct. 17 in state Supreme Court in Schenectady, which is where the racing board is headquartered. Dutrow’s lawyers have four months to file an appeal.

“We look forward to challenging this in the courts, which will not have the biases or conflicts of interests that infected the Racing and Wagering Board in this case," Koenig said. “This decision is vindictive, heavy-handed and, most importantly, contrary to the facts, contrary to the evidence, and contrary to any notion of fundamental fairness or due process."

He said all the witnesses in the case, including racing board employees, testified that Dutrow “had a positive overall character and was good for the sport."

Koenig particularly zeroed in on Sabini, the racing board chairman. The lawyer had formally asked Sabini to recuse himself from the case because he is a member of the Racing Commissioners International, the same group that asked the racing board to revoke Dutrow’s license. He called it a "remarkable'' conflict of interest.

Dutrow could face problems in other states if, as often can happen, they defer to New York’s action against the trainer.

“The Racing and Wagering Board structure and process allows them to play prosecutor, judge and jury. No fair decisions can result from such a stacked process," Koenig said.

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 Nov. 20 in the third race at Aqueduct, and a subsequent discovery of hypodermic needles in a Dutrow barn.

The racing board later upped the penalty to a full revocation of his license, saying that the controversial trainer 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 has still been training horses, as permitted, during his appeal of the board’s proposed punishment.

The trainer has steadfast denied the board’s most recent allegations against him, and said he wasn’t even in the state when the drug was found in the urine sample of one of his horses last year.

“I wouldn’t do something improper with any of my horses,” Dutrow said back in June. “I’ve done really good in the game…and I wouldn’t risk that for anything."

Besides denying the charges, Dutrow’s lawyer has claimed his due process rights were violated by the racing board. Chief among the claims by Michael Koenig, his lawyer, is connections between racing board chairman John Sabini, who is on the board of the Racing Commissioners International, and the group’s president, Ed Martin.

A former top official at the New York racing board, Martin urged Sabini to revoke, and not just suspend, Dutrow’s license, noting that the trainer has a long history of problems, including 69 rule infractions in different states since 1979, including a 2005 case when he continued training during a suspension period.

The board’s hearing officer in the case, Clemente Parente, recommended to the board that Dutrow never be allowed to train again in New York, and that he pay $50,000 in fines for the two violations from last fall.

Sabini said the 10-year suspension begins next week, giving time for Dutrow-trained horses already entered in races to run. “If we have even a smell of third party training here,” Sabini said of Dutrow’s conduct during the suspension period, “we’re not going to look kindly on it.”

Board member Charles Diamond said Dutrow’s conduct has been “inconsistent with the best interests of racing.”

He called a permanent revocation, however, “too severe” and proposed the 10-year ban instead.

Beyond the findings from the incidents last November in Dutrow's barn at Aqueduct, the racing board detailed what it called his "violation-laden history,'' including suspensions for drug violations in New York and Kentucky and falsified license applications in three states since 1979. His license was suspended earlier this year in Kentucky.

In his 17-page report to the board, Parente, the hearing officer, noted the character witnesses who testified on Dutrow's behalf, including Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr., and horse owners Kenneth Page and Samantha Siegel. But he said the testimony was "seemingly inconsistent'' with Dutrow's past violations of equine rules.

Based on previous violations, as well as the two incidents from November, Parente said that Dutrow "is a person whose conduct at racetracks in New York state is detrimental to the best interests of racing and his character and general fitness are such that his participation in pari-mutuel racing is inconsistent with the public interests, convenience and necessity and with the best interests of racing generally.''

Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said the action taken in Dutrow's case “is a clear indicator that regulators will not tolerate a pattern of disregard for the rules of racing by a licensee.

“Integrity is an indispensable part of Thoroughbred racing,” Waldrop added, “and all participants must abide by this principle in order to retain the privilege of participation.”

Read the entire hearing officer's report here.

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