What Next for Rick Dutrow?
Now that Rick Dutrow's 10-year ban from New York racing has taken effect and his horses transferred to other trainers, how might the rest of the story play out?
Is it still possible Dutrow could find legal relief at the federal level? Could he set up shop elsewhere or continue to work behind the scenes training horses?
“It's not looking real good for him,” said Louisville attorney Robert Heleringer, a former state lawmaker and racing official who has literally written the book on Equine Regulatory Law.
While Dutrow's legal options have reached the last-resort stage, he could still petition a federal court for an injunction that would halt the suspension, with the case possibly being returned to the New York appellate courts. But Heleringer said the odds are significantly stacked against Dutrow.
“He'd have to hit the equivalent of a Pick 6 on Breeders' Cup day,” he said. “You have to be lucky enough to get the right judge to say perhaps he's been given a bad rap, but based on the facts so far, he's going to have a difficult time even getting an injunction. You have to give them some grounds that you're going to prevail on the merits of the case. Otherwise, you're not entitled to an injunction.”
Heleringer said federal courts are loath to “do the work of state courts” unless there is an obvious violation of federal constitutional rights. The New York Court of Appeals has already ruled that Dutrow's case involved “no substantial constitutional question.” Heleringer said arguments that Dutrow's punishment was too severe or that he was singled out have also fallen on deaf ears in court.
“If anything, he's had multiple opportunities to practice his profession in compliance with the rules. After all of those infractions, I don't think any court will say he's been discriminated against. I don't know what legal strategy he could employ that would meet with any success, given his record.”
As for training horses outside of New York, while there is no legal requirement for tracks and jurisdictions to honor bans in other states, Heleringer said since the 1930s states have done so anyway.
“They did it as a form of self-preservation,” Heleringer said. “If a guy's a cheater in one state and can merely pick up next door and resume his illegal and unlawful activities, how are you protecting the sport?”
Heleringer admitted some states, like Louisiana, have a reputation for being more lax when it comes to honoring suspensions, but Dutrow's notoriety makes it less likely a state would take that chance.
“There would be a lot of pressure on any state where he would show up and apply,” said Heleringer. “His record is so immense that it's not like some relatively unknown guy who got ruled off in one state and could go off to a remote state and pick up where he left off.”
If Dutrow did apply for a license elsewhere, and he was denied, Heleringer said he would have to include that information on any future applications – something that would further hinder his chances of being able to train once the 10-year ban is over.
Some have wondered whether Dutrow might figure out a way to stay off the radar, training horses behind the scenes. The 53-year-old has transferred horses to friends and/or former colleagues, including Wesley Ward and Rudy Rodriguez. Michelle Nevin, a previous assistant and former girlfriend of Dutrow's, passed her trainer's test in Florida last week and was given 20 stalls at Gulfstream Park.
The New York order, which Gulfstream President and GM Tim Ritvo said the track would follow, prohibits Dutrow from taking part in “any arrangements made to care for, train, enter, race, invoice, collect fees or payments, manage funds, employ or insure workers, provide advice or information, or otherwise assist with any aspect of training of the horse.”
“We will follow the lines and the order of the New York ruling to a tee,” Ritvo said. He said track officials spoke with Nevin and with other horsemen prior to giving her the opportunity to train and have stalls. They agreed to give her a chance.
“We told her if we found any ties back to (Rick), then we would basically rescind her stalls,” Ritvo said. “Have we done an investigation of her phone records? No, we haven't reached that point. But we gave her a pretty strict warning.”
Heleringer said trainers as well as owners who had horses with Dutrow would be taking a big risk of getting ruled off themselves if they allowed him to have any participation, influence, or input.
“It's going to difficult for him to do anything on a surreptitious basis because of who he is. He's going to be under such a microscope. People don't trust him. Some of his former owners are going to be scrutinized, and their horses. A Dutrow watch will be in existence.”