Rudy Rodriguez, the trainer of Kentucky Derby contender Vyjack, whose perfect 4-for-4 record ended when third to Verrazano in the Wood Memorial April 6, will be able to train the son of Into Mischief when he checks into Churchill Downs later this month.
That's because the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's License Review Committee voted Tuesday to grant a license to Rodriguez after a two-hour hearing that focused on Rodriguez' recent medication violations (several overages of therapeutic drugs phenylbutazone and flunixin in 2011-12) and his prior association with trainer Rick Dutrow, who has been banned from the sport for 10 years by New York racing authorities after being denied a racing license in Kentucky.
It was an unusual hearing, given the fact that Rodriguez has no major medication violations in his history. There were questions about how a former jockey and exercise rider could grow a public stable from just a few horses in 2010 to one that presently has more than 80 horses, employs nearly 40 people, and has enjoyed considerable success.
The committee put conditions on the Rodriguez license, requiring that the trainer install 24-hour surveillance on Vyjack, including video surveillance at Churchill Downs that would be open to KHRC officials at any time.
Ironically, Rodriguez and his lawyer, Karen Murphy, claim that it was a lack of video surveillance at his Aqueduct barn that led to someone tampering with the Rodriguez runner Majestic Marquet on March 10, 2013. Rodriguez installed video surveillance at his barn, Murphy said, but after being asked to move to another portion of the barn was not able to re-install the video cameras because the electrical system would not support it. He asked NYRA to upgrade the barn's power supply, she said, but the association failed to do so.
The horse tested positive for flunixin at such a high level that Murphy said it could only have been given by someone who was out to get Rodriguez. No charges have been filed in that case, and Rodriguez is offering a $50,000 reward to anyone who has information that could lead to him discovering what happened to Majestic Marquet. The horse won a starter allowance/optional claiming race as the 2-1 favorite the day he tested for 405 nanograms of flunixin.
Questioning by committee chairman Burr Travis centered on the role Rodriguez may have played in the Wild Desert workout incident that eventually landed Dutrow in so much trouble. The horse was banned at New York Racing Association tracks because of a dispute with its owner, but Dutrow allegedly snuck him in under a false name, and Rodriguez exercised him one morning and was subsequently fined and suspended for providing false statements to authorities. Shortly thereafter, Wild Desert went on to win the Queen's Plate at Woodbine in the name of Robert Frankel, who agreed to saddle the horse while Dutrow was on suspension.
Speaking on Rodriguez' behalf was Eclipse Award-winning trainer Dale Romans, who said he respected Rodriguez both for his horsemanship and character. Vyjack will be stabled in the Romans barn at Churchill Downs.
Also testifying, by telephone, was owner Michael Dubb, who is a member of the New York Racing Association board of directors and has horses with Rodriguez, Chad Brown, and Hall of Famer Bill Mott. Dubb, who previously had horses with Dutrow, said Rodriguez should not be penalized simply because he formerly worked for a man that Dubb referred to during his testimony as an “idiot.”
Rodriguez testified that he has had no recent communication with Dutrow, verbally or in writing, and in the last several years has said little more than “good morning” to his former boss when he sees him on the backstretch. “I think he probably got mad when I left,” Rodriguez said of Dutrow. Rodriguez admitted that he picked up as many as 15-20 horses when the Dutrow barn was shut down because of his suspension.
Dubb said Rodriguez, an immigrant from Mexico who is now a U.S. citizen, “is a first-class human being and epitomizes the American dream.”
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