Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Trainers

Tipping Point?


Dutrow in happier days.

“RICK DUTROW DONE,” was the search term that led someone to Railbird this morning, presumably seeking more on yesterday’s shocking news that the KHRC denied the trainer a Kentucky license because of his lengthy list of violations and license application inconsistencies. “I never thought I’d see the day when a big-name trainer was held to task for his misdeeds,” tweeted Ryan Goldberg. Regardless of what happens next, there’s no denying, as the Racing Post put it so well, that “controversial trainer Rick Dutrow hit a new career low” on Wednesday. He has a chance to hit another in May, when New York reviews his license, or possibly when his biggest client, IEAH, pulls its stock from his barn. “Obviously, we can’t be in a position where our horses can’t run in certain jurisdictions,” Michael Iavarone told DRF.

A restraining order will make it possible for Amen Hallelujah, entered by Dutrow before his hearing, to start in the Vinery Madison today*.

Brooklyn Backstretch has posted a timely interview with RCI president Ed Martin on Dutrow’s record and the letter Martin wrote to the NYSRWB in February calling for an examination of his license: “His record is his record.” That’s just it, and Dutrow doesn’t help himself when he makes excuses:

He also said any misinformation on his license applications were not intentional but were due to the fact others completed the paperwork for him, and he just signed it.

Or refuses to take responsibility:

Dutrow said that was because he could not remember whether the incident occurred within the time frame stipulated on the application, but the committee could get copies of his criminal record in order to get the specifics.

What made the KHRC decision all the more interesting was the context. It’s spring, and racing seems to be in the mood to clean house. The movement to ban raceday medications is suddenly gaining real momentum. The latest group to sign on is the Breeders’ Cup, which announced today that its board:

… also endorsed in principle the recently announced recommendation of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) to eliminate the use of race-day medications in North American racing and decided to appoint a sub-committee with the objective of developing a plan and a timetable for the elimination of race-day medication in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

American racing is going drug-free! I don’t see what could stop … oh, right:

Saying they support efforts to limit race-day medications, two prominent Thoroughbred trainers said they hope the initiatives do not go so far as to ban use of the anti-bleeder drug known as Salix.

The horsemen are going to take to some work to win over:

The Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents all licensed owners and trainers, hasn’t discussed stricter medication rules, said president Rick Hiles, a trainer.

“We believe in therapeutic medications to help the animals,” he said, “so we’re probably not going to endorse it.”

But what about the celebrity owners, Mr. Hiles? Spare them a thought, as TDN publisher Barry Weisbord does in a column appearing yesterday:

When a prominent t.v. personality such as Bobby Flay or a successful young businessman like Mike Repole or Kevin Plank — any of whom could participate in any sport they’d like — decides to spend his free time participating in Thoroughbred racing, what do we do? We make it tougher on him by forcing him to continually answer this question: Why do you spend your time in an industry which drugs its athletes?

Asking them to answer that question, be it in the lead-up to a major race, or when they’re receiving some other recognition in their professional lives and the topic of racing comes up, is not only unfair, but has to diminish their enjoyment of their participation in racing.

Actually, I get this. When I talk to people who don’t know much about racing, the question of drugs often comes up, and I find myself choosing my words carefully and trying to tell the truth but not make it sound so, so bad. There’s a perception of shadiness attached to even the legal medications, regardless of their therapeutic qualities. Banning raceday drugs is about doing right by horses, and giving horseplayers and casual fans reason to trust in the integrity of the game — which is why all the meds, including Lasix, must go.

*Turns out, Amen’s start took a last-minute trainer change, an unusual move with implications for trainer responsibility (via @o_crunk).

4/15/11 Addendum: This is pretty funny:

Sallusto was not on the grounds for the [Vinery Madison], leaving jockey John Velazquez as the sole person to answer questions in the wake of the filly’s runner-up effort.

“No one,” was Velazquez’s response when asked who gave him pre-race instructions.

When asked whether he had talked with the trainer after the race, Velazquez replied, “Who is the trainer?”

Confusing Conditions

As racing secretaries scramble to fill cards, under pressure from year-round racing and declining horse populations, deciphering complex race conditions is becoming more difficult for handicappers, writes Bob Fortus:

Little by little, claiming races with restrictions started creeping into the programs. The ‘B’ races, which started on the East Coast several years ago, are the latest form of restricted claiming. In those races, it can be particularly difficult to single out horses as serious contenders.

Optional claiming/allowance races are common everywhere, too. Handicappers suddenly are confronted with questions they rarely would have encountered just a few years ago, such as, Can a sharp and capable 3-year-old with only two victories in his career beat a tough, old claiming horse with several career victories.

Steve Davidowitz wrote about how to spot live horses among “gobbledygook” conditions in a 2009 DRF+ column (via HRF). For more in-depth treatment, nothing beats James Quinn’s “The Handicapper’s Condition Book.”

Character Unbecoming

Roguish trainer Rick Dutrow is being called to account:

In a five-point “show cause” notice ordering Dutrow to appear before the board on March 30 and 31, the racing board states that the 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.”

I may have been wrong last month about the NYSRWB.

Enough Isn’t Enough

Following the news that Rick Dutrow had been suspended ninety days* for two infractions, RCI president Ed Martin formally asked the NYSRWB for a review of the trainer’s license, citing his lengthy record of violations (PDF):

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. At some point, enough is enough.

Since 1979, racing regulatory jurisdictions have sanctioned Mr. Dutrow at least 64 times for various rule violations in nine different states at fifteen different racetracks.

The board isn’t rushing to consider the request, reports David Grening:

“If I had a crystal ball with high-definition and 3-D I’d be in a better position to make predictions,” said Joe Mahoney, a board spokesman.

Dutrow’s New York license is valid through Aug. 5. Mahoney said the board does “look at the licensee’s record at the time of renewal.”

Grening describes Mahoney’s reply as “non-committal.” I’d say it sounds more like, “No way in hell.” The Babe’s not going anywhere, except on vacation.

*Pending appeal, of course.

2/20/11 Addendum: Dutrow’s attorney replies to Martin: “We hope that Mr. Martin did not rush to judgment and that he paid more attention to the actual facts when he was in charge at the New York State Racing and Wagering Board than he has demonstrated in his recent unfounded and irresponsible letter.”

Sadler’s Year?

Trainer John Sadler is hardly unknown. Steadily climbing the rankings over the past decade, he’s been among the top 10 conditioners nationally by earnings since 2008, and six weeks into this year, he’s number four, behind perennial leaders Asmussen, Baffert, and Pletcher. On opening day at Santa Anita, he won three graded stakes. This past weekend, he won three of the four graded stakes run at the track — the Strub Stakes with Twirling Candy (“possesses an undeniable brilliance,” gushed Mike Watchmaker), the Las Virgenes with Zazu (Green but Game’s expert pick and newest crush), and the San Antonio Handicap with Gladding. With 4-year-old stakes winners Switch and Sidney’s Candy also in his barn, the Santa Anita press office calculates that he has “serious contenders … in no less than six of racing’s divisions.” Not bad. While Sadler isn’t well stocked in racing’s glamour division — his most promising 3-year-old male so far this winter is Runflatout, a debut maiden winner — with three of the best older horses in training, he seems poised to have the kind of breakout year that leads to an Eclipse Award.

Hold off on adding Cal Nation to your Kentucky Derby top 10:

“Cal Nation came out of his race well,” said Pletcher of the 3-year-old Distorted Humor colt who was impressive in breaking his maiden at first asking in Saturday’s eighth race [at Gulfstream].  “It’s a little late [for him to get onto the Kentucky Derby trail].  We’d have to make up a lot of time.  I think we’ll just take the conservative route with him.”

Kentucky Derby and Oaks prep schedules updated: Beyer speed figures of 88 for Toby’s Corner in the Whirlaway and Zazu in the Las Virgenes.

Brad Free was out with an interesting post on Santa Anita’s new dirt surface over the weekend: “No one wants to knock the surface. Not publicly, at least. But behind the scenes, many are frustrated.” For whatever reason, the track composition is not as as expected; more sand is to be added. Via Derby List comes this report of bruising clods being thrown up by the dirt: “I had the misfortune of being behind one horse while working a set 2 mornings ago …

2/9/11 Addendum: Sadler tells Jay Privman that Runflatout is possible for the San Vicente Stakes on February 20. “I want to give him a chance to get to the Kentucky Derby, but I want to be smart, too, about how we go at it.”

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