By Bill Finley
Trainer Dale Romans has started an online petition asking the New York Gaming Commission to reinstate trainer Richard (Rick) Dutrow, Jr., who has served five years of a 10-year suspension first handed down in 2011. As of 2 p.m. (EDT) Thursday, 1,258 people had signed the petition, nearing its stated goal of 1,500 signatures.
“He got screwed over so bad,” Romans said. “He did not deserve 10 years. If it can happen to him, it can happen to any of us. Somebody needs to stand up and help put a stop to this.”
Dutrow's problems began when a horse he trained had a positive test for Butorphanol, a painkiller. Had that been the extent of the alleged infraction, Dutrow's penalty would have likely been a lot less harsh. However, around the same time as the positive was reported, investigators claimed they also found three syringes loaded with a prohibited substance in the desk drawer of Dutrow's office. Romans told TDN he believes the syringes were planted.
“I'm not a conspiracy theorist in any way, but I believe the syringes were planted in his barn,” Romans said.
Dutrow's career had been marked by both success and controversy. He guided Big Brown (Boundary) to wins in the GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness S. in 2008 and admitted during the run-up to the GI Belmont S. that he treated the horse with steroids.
Even though steroid use was largely legal at the time, Dutrow's admission brought harsh criticism from many concerned about the overuse of legal and illegal drugs in the sport and led to an eventual ban of steroids throughout the industry. Dutrow has also received numerous suspensions and fines, though most were for minor infractions. According to the website horseraceinsider.com, his only penalties for the use of illegal substances were for the Butorphanol use and a 2003 positive for Mepivacaine.
Dutrow was also known for his brash and somewhat unusual personality. He referred to virtually everyone as “babe” and seemed to not have a filter. He said what was on his mind.
“Rick is a guy who cannot tell a lie,” Romans said. “That might sound stupid. But if they ask him a question, he tells the truth and he has said he never used anything illegal. He admitted using steroids, but everyone in the game was using them at the time and they were legal.”
Then known as the New York Racing and Wagering Board, the commission announced that Dutrow's lengthy penalty was due to “conduct at racetracks in New York State and elsewhere has been improper, obnoxious, unbecoming, and detrimental to the best interests of racing.”
Dutrow continued to train while appealing his case in both state and federal courts, but eventually exhausted all his appeals. He last started a horse on Jan. 16, 2013.
When contacted by TDN yesterday, Dutrow declined a full interview, but did answer some questions via text, saying, “I appreciate Dale's efforts and I hope it helps me return to the job I love.”
When asked where he is currently residing, he texted back, “I'm not living, just hanging.”
In April of 2017 it was reported that Dutrow had filed for bankruptcy. Dutrow claimed to have $1.76 million in liabilities while his assets amounted to $50 cash and $12.50 he had in a joint checking account with his ex-wife.
Not only would Romans like to see Dutrow reinstated as soon as possible, he said he finds it hard to believe he was ever guilty in the first place.
“I know he didn't cheat,” Romans said. “I know people think he did, but most of those people don't understand the racing game. The thing is, he's just so good at what he does. He never had catastrophic injury in 11 years. Anyone that hasn't had a catastrophic injury over that long a period of time can't be cheating. If you give horses medicines to make them go faster than they're capable of, they're going to blow apart. They're going to drop over dead. They can't handle that.
“People love to criticize, but they don't know the facts. I would like to run into someone who thinks he cheated and have them be able to give me some evidence of that.”
Romans said he has been working for about two years to help Dutrow get his license back, talking to the Gaming Commission, attorneys and some media members. But he grew discouraged by his lack of progress.
“We kept running into dead ends, so we thought we'd take this public,” he said. “We worked with his attorney to take this public to show the powers that be in New York that this isn't right, that they ought to at least take another look at this. He's done enough time with the time served. Let the man go back to work.”
Romans alleges Dutrow's personality played a role in the Racing and Wagering Board's decision.
“He got 10 years because people didn't like him,” he said.
According to the website that is home to the petition, MLB Executive, former New York Yankee manager and horse owner Joe Torre wrote the commission in support of Dutrow's return. Dutrow trained several horses for Torre.
Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado was among those to sign the petition and he added the following in the comment section: “A great horseman, very dedicated to his horses. I think they need to review and reconsider. It's been a long time.”
New York Gaming Commission spokesman Brad Maione declined to comment on Romans's allegations.