The wise guys are out in force: “Knock me over with a feather,” they are saying in response to the latest news about Rick “No Show” Dutrow, who will be handed a 15-day suspension from the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, which also will redistribute the $20,000 second-place purse won by Salute the Count in the Aegon Turf Sprint Stakes at Churchill Downs May 2. The former claiming horse owned by Michael Dubb and Robert Joscelyn tested positive for an extremely high level of clenbuterol, a bronchial dilator that has come into vogue as a training aid among many horsemen over the last 10 years but is not permitted on raceday.
The violation came one day before Dutrow-trained Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby.
Why just 15 days for Dutrow, who according to the Association of Racing Commissioners International has at least 72 previous rulings against him for a variety of violations since 1976? The New York Times, which broke the story, quotes former trainer John Veitch, the chief state steward for the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority , as saying 15 days and forfeiture of the purse would be Dutrow's penalty for a first offense, according to Kentucky rules. Veitch told the paper the level detected (and confirmed by an independent lab of Dutrow's choosing) was two times that of the legal threshold and the highest he had seen in four years as Kentucky's top racing official.
If I get speeding tickets in 25 states and am then caught in Kentucky going 10 miles over the limit, I hope I can get the same kid-glove treatment and am looked upon as a first-time offender. Somehow, I doubt that will happen. Why, then, is Dutrow's track record of rules violations in multiple states being ignored in Kentucky?
Larry Jones, the trainer of star-crossed Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles, recently had a positive test for clenbuterol in Delaware on a horse owned by Jim Squires. By all accounts, if confirmed in a split sample, this would be Jones' first medication violation in 25 years of training. According to Delaware Park stewards, the standard penalty for a first offense would be a $500 fine, forfeiture of purse and a seven-day suspension of the trainer. Not much different than the sanctions that will be imposed on Dutrow.
Considering the number of violations Dutrow has had during his career (including a 2004 case involving clenbuterol in New York), the Kentucky penalty given him would be the proverbial slap on the wrist.
This is the kind of problem that federal lawmakers looked into last week, when Dutrow was among a group of owners, trainers, veterinarians, regulators and racing officials asked to testify before a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on Thoroughbred racing and breeding. The trainer was the only no show, however, claiming to be ill. During the hearing, House members zeroed in on racing's inability to enforce national standardized rules and penalties due to the structure that has 38 different state racing commissions regulating the sport and the absence of a league office that other major league sports have.
If the Congressional inquiry made racing industry leaders look impotent then, how do they look now, in the wake of the wrist slap against Dutrow?
This case is only going to further motivate Congress to take action, unless someone in the Thoroughbred industry moves beyond forming committees, making recommendations and pontificating about “consensus building” and the “power of persuasion.”
It is clear the Thoroughbred industry, as presently structured, is incapable of policing itself adequately.
By Ray Paulick
Copyright ©2008, The Paulick Report
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