By Bill Finley
Monday marks an important date for trainer Rick Dutrow and his fight to get back into the sport. It was exactly 10 years ago that he started a horse named Colossal Gift (Songandaprayer) in a claiming race at Aqueduct. Then he was forced to disappear, the result of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board revoking his license for a 10-year period, which has now expired.
The regulators acted after Dutrow, always a controversial figure, had a horse he trained, Fastus Cactus (Cactus Ridge), test positive for 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.
“New York's racing industry has no place or patience for Mr. Dutrow,” Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John Sabini said in a statement announcing that Dutrow's license had been revoked.
Dutrow's lawyers were able to delay the matter in the courts for more than two years, but eventually ran out of legal options.
Had Dutrow merely been suspended, he would be back this week. But the process has been complicated by the fact that he had his license revoked. That means he has to start from scratch and re-apply for a trainer's license. Dutrow's attorney Karen Murphy said the application has yet to be submitted, but will be done shortly. The Dutrow legal team has grown and now includes Chris Boehning, a high-profile attorney with the firm Paul Weiss.
Murphy believes that it's just a matter of time until Dutrow is allowed to return.
“He's going to get licensed,” he said. “I can't imagine that if somebody served their penalty and paid an extraordinary fine [$50,000] like he did that they wouldn't let him back. He has served his time, he has paid his fine and he has conducted himself in an exemplary manner while he's been away. So far as how Rick has conducted himself, there hasn't been one smudge. I don't know on what grounds they could deny him a license.”
Murphy estimated the process will take “a couple of months.”
But will it be that easy?
Racing is now regulated in the state by the New York Gaming Commission, which has made a number of controversial rulings of late that have had many scratching their heads. Dutrow is a polarizing figure and there are no doubt some important people who would rather he never train again. Even though the 10 years is up, with this commission there are no guarantees his application for a new license will be approved.
In the meantime, Dutrow, who declared bankruptcy in 2017 and has not worked since his license was taken away, will have to wait, exactly what he has been doing for 10 years. Will there be a another chapter to his training career? The answer is near.
Surick Named Names
With prosecutors having submitted a pre-sentencing report last week regarding convicted drug cheat Nick Surick some of the questions revolving around the former Standardbred trainer were answered.
Surick, who has admitted to drugging his own horses, as well as assisting Jorge Navarro in his doping program, will be sentenced Thursday. He is facing up to six years in prison but the government has signed off on a lesser sentence because Surick cooperated with prosecutors and offered to testify against others. Ultimately, the government felt that Surick's testimony could not be used against others because his credibility came into question when he told investigators that veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Linke injected a Standardbred he trained named Northern Virgin with EPO. Linke was able to prove she was not around the horse at the time he was drugged. The government has accepted the possibility that Surick was not lying and, rather, had trouble recollecting the exact circumstances of the Northern Virgin incident. Because Surick had tried to assist investigators, the U.S. Attorney's Office has stated its willingness to accept a lighter sentence than what he would have been given had he not cooperated. Surick's lawyer Timothy Donohue has asked the court to sentence his client to just 12 months of home confinement.
That's what we know. What we don't know is who else Surick implicated beyond those who were named in the March, 2020 indictments. The pre-sentencing submissions from both Surick's attorney and the governor confirmed that the former trainer turned over information on individuals whose names have never surfaced. Those names were originally included in the pre-sentencing reports, but were redacted.
That raises many questions. Who did he name? How many people did he name? And did he finger people in the Thoroughbred industry, the Standardbred industry or both? Would the government have gone after those people had Surick not fouled up the Linke matter, bringing his credibility into question?
Unfortunately, those questions may never be answered. Beyond the more than two dozen people indicted nearly three years ago, the government has shown no appetite for continuing its investigation and going after a new set of alleged drug cheats. And even if the names were released there would be no guarantees that the government could build a case against those individuals, when the case could come down to Surick's tainted word versus the word of someone he implicated.
Surick has not been heard from, but through Donohue we have learned more about his mind-set. Why did he become a serial cheater? The answer is troubling.
“He rationalized his misdeeds with the idea that 'everyone was doing it,'” Donohue wrote.
Does any of this mean he should be given a break? That will be left up to U.S. District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil, who has been unwaveringly tough on all the drug cheats that have entered her courtroom, never once showing any signs of leniency. So maybe Surick will be sentenced to a long stint in prison. Unfortunately, it looks like he will be taking his secrets with him.
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