By Bill Finley
Some 9 1/2 years after being handed a 10-year ban by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, the predecessor of the New York Gaming Commission, trainer Rick Dutrow could be only a few months removed from a return to the racetrack. His last starter came on Jan. 16, 2013 at Aqueduct, meaning that he may be allowed to resume training by mid-January of next year.
“Ricky is doing quite well and he really is in a great frame of mind,” said trainer Tony Dutrow, Dutrow's brother. “He's excited about getting back and he's hopeful that he is going to get back. He's not taking anything for granted, but he is a survivor and he's excited about the possibility of getting back.”
Dutrow's lawyer, Karen Murphy, told the TDN that within the next few months she will start the process she hopes will lead to the Gaming Commission agreeing to restore Dutrow to good standing. While remaining confident that Dutrow will be allowed to begin training early next year, Murphy explained that her client was not suspended, but instead had his license revoked. There is, she said, a difference between the two types of penalties.
“This involves a nuance,” she said. “It was a revocation and not a suspension. A suspension goes from a certain day to a certain day that you must sit out. When it's over, you can come back. With a revocation of a license, something has been taken away and you have to ask for it back. You can ask for it back shortly before the date in question and then a consideration is made so far as whether or not you should receive that license.”
Dutrow, now 62, declined to be interviewed for this story.
Dutrow, whose career accomplishments include wins in the GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness S. with Big Brown (Boundary) and in the GI Breeders' Cup Classic with Saint Liam (Saint Ballado), was a controversial figure throughout his training career and had compiled a number of medication violations. His problems intensified when a horse he trained, Fastus Cactus (Cactus Ridge), was found to have butorphanol in his system after winning the third race at Aqueduct on Nov. 20, 2010. Around the same time, Dutrow's barn was searched and investigators claimed to have found in a desk drawer three syringes filled with a muscle relaxer, xylazine.
In 2019, former Gaming Commission steward Stephen Lewandowski alleged that the syringes were planted in the office by investigators.
In October of 2011, the State Racing and Wagering Board announced that Dutrow, due to his history of rules violations and the recent incidents with the syringes and Fastus Cactus, was being fined $50,000 and that his license would be revoked for 10 years.
“New York's racing industry has no place or patience for Mr. Dutrow,” Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John Sabini said in a release after Dutrow had his license revoked. “His repeated violations and disregard of the rules of racing has eroded confidence in the betting public and caused an embarrassment throughout the industry. His self-described 'game' in New York horse racing is over. We will not permit individuals who cheat and sully New York's world-class racing product.”
Subsequent court challenges from Dutrow's legal team kept him in action until Jan. 16, 2013, at which time he began serving his penalty.
Barred from having anything to do with Thoroughbred race horses, Dutrow was lost. With no income coming in, he was forced to sell his house and in 2017 declared bankruptcy. He has spent much of the time away from the track living with his mother in Saratoga and also spends time with his brother, who has a house in Floral Park, NY.
“He's got nothing,” said Murphy, who took up Dutrow's case in 2015 at, she said, the request of prominent owner Michael Dubb.
“I don't know how he has sustained himself through this,” Murphy continued. “For him, there is no other life. You or I, we could shift gears and do something different and be just fine. This is it, all he knows how to do. But he is always positive. Since this all began, he has never stepped out of line or never violated any of the terms of this insidious, onerous, if not unconstitutional, if not unlawful, order which prohibited him from putting a hand on a horse.”
Since taking over the Dutrow case, Murphy tried to get Kentucky to license her client, but was unsuccessful. A petition drive spearheaded by fellow horsemen asking the Gaming Commission to allow Dutrow back, also did not go anywhere. In 2016, Murphy submitted an application to the Gaming Commission, asking them to exercise clemency and reinstate Dutrow's trainer's license. The request was denied. And a 2020 report in the New York Daily News that included Lewandowski's charge that Dutrow, when it came to the syringes, was framed, also led nowhere. With that in mind, Murphy is wary of declaring victory too early. But she believes that changes in state government and at the Gaming Commission will work in Dutrow's favor.
“I am hopeful,” she said. “We have a new governor (Kathy Hochul) and a new member of the Gaming Commission in Brian O'Dwyer. That has to be a plus. It's a big improvement because this is going to be looked at by a fresh pair of eyes.”
If and when Dutrow gets reinstated, he will have to build a stable from scratch. That he was someone who normally won with about 25% of his starters and won at the highest levels of the sport will no doubt appeal to some owners. But others may want to stay away from a trainer with so much baggage. When asked by the TDN whether or not he would give horses to Dutrow upon his return, Dubb, who had been among Dutrow's most important and loyal owners, said it was too early in the process for him to have made that decision.
“There are people out there who do not believe in Ricky, but there are plenty out there that do,” Tony Dutrow said.
“At the end of the day, what matters to owners who really care about the horse is to have a trainer who really cares about the horse and also gets the results that Rick got,” Murphy said. “There will be baby steps at the beginning. But Rick has shown what he can do. I think some of his owners will show up from day one. He may not have Grade I stock starting out but I think he will have Grade I stock in short order.”
Though optimistic, Murphy can only hope that a fight that has lasted more than 10 years is almost over. The goal is to have Dutrow back training at Aqueduct in January. But if that doesn't happen, Murphy said the battle will continue.
“Am I confident? Yes,” she said. “That's because I will never give up. He will train horses again because he has to be training horses again.”