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Another Dutrow could see breakout year
BENSALEM, Pa. - Tony Dutrow burrowed his hands in his Carhartt jacket and climbed the stairs of the trainer's shack near the three-eighths pole at Philadelphia Park. It was a frigid January morning, a far cry from Florida, where he had won the Holy Bull Stakes with Winslow Homer six days earlier.
Dutrow walked into the shelter, nodded, smiled, said good morning, and quietly slid into the corner to watch a Tapit colt breeze a half-mile.
John Servis, Butch Reid, and the other Boys of Winter would have nothing of it.
"Thanks for the weather, Tony."
"Bring any oranges?"
"Look at you. Sun tan, stakes winners. You're a new man."
This was Friday, Jan. 29. Winslow Homer had everybody at Philadelphia Park talking about his polished victory at Gulfstream Park. Making his fourth career start and first as a 3-year-old, the Unbridled's Song colt rated off the pace, split horses, and won with aplomb. He had learned his lessons well, following Dutrow's commands to switch off and come running, going from a third in his debut at Delaware Park to a maiden victory at Saratoga to a two-turn allowance win at Philadelphia Park.
After years of toiling on the Mid-Atlantic circuit, Dutrow sat poised and ready with a serious Kentucky Derby contender. The race was still months away, but this was as close as Dutrow had ever been. He grew up as a racetrack orphan - horses first, family second. He raised his own family the same way, knowing his horses better than his sons James, John, and Anthony; reading the condition book instead of bedtime stories; playing the game in the irrepressible shadows of his father, Dick, the claiming icon of the 70s and 80s who raced King's Swan and Lite the Fuse, and his younger brother Rick, the trash-talking zealot of the last decade who raced Big Brown and Saint Liam.
Now, he had his big horse.
Dutrow felt like Winslow Homer was in good shape for the rigors ahead - the Fountain of Youth, the Louisiana Derby, and the Kentucky Derby.
"I believe preparation is big," Dutrow said. "I'm not an anticipator. I don't use my opinions. I need to see facts."
Three days later, fact intervened.
On Monday, Feb. 1, Dutrow felt something he didn't like in Winslow Homer's shin, and ordered an X-ray. Dr. Larry Bramlage diagnosed a cracked bone.
The injury would require 60 to 90 days to recover. That fast, the horse was off the Derby trail.
"Part of the game, just part of the game," Dutrow said later. "Take care of what you're faced with, and that's the best you can do.
"Disappointing, but really, no big deal."
Even with Winslow Homer on the shelf until summer, Dutrow, 51, is still on the cusp of a career year.
He has spent his life winning, first in Maryland, then at Philadelphia Park, then in New York. He started walking hots for his dad in 1968. His first winner came in 1975, a horse he bought while working for his dad. He won his 1,000th race in 2007. He built his reputation with horses who were not special but instead were claimed or chosen at sales for budget-oriented clients.
Along with Rick and Chip, the youngest brother, Dutrow dropped out of high school to work for his dad. Ricky would cause trouble, incensing his father. Tony would do his work, quietly without complaint. Chip, 49, would fall somewhere in the middle.
"I was scared, always was," Tony Dutrow said. "I was always worried, always worrying. I was always serious. What you see, I've always been this way. My brother Ricky has always been the way he is, wild. But Ricky told us he was going to do really big things. He knew he was going to do big stuff. So to see Ricky win the type of things he's done in the horse business, Ricky never had a doubt in his mind. Ricky doesn't feel there is any competition, in a little bit arrogant way, yeah. But he's that confident."
Rick Dutrow, 50, trained Horse of the Year Saint Liam, won two legs of the Triple Crown with Big Brown, and has been leading trainer in New York three times. In less than a decade, he went from living in his Aqueduct tack room to managing some of the best stock in the sport. He seems capable of anything. While Rick was growing up, a friend of his cleaned a bank at night. Rick threw a party at the bank, inviting anybody he knew. The party got busted, and everybody ran.
While Tony played inside the box, Chip and Rick sold the box for beer money.
"Tone was always the good one," Rick Dutrow said. "He always did right. He wouldn't do the things me and my other brother would do. He always tried to keep things in line, just like he does now. Everything is always in order. You never hear anything bad coming out of that camp. He's always been straightforward, and I haven't. That's OK. We are very different, but very close as well. Always have been."
"I was always scared to death of consequences," Tony Dutrow said. "If I don't get a good grade on this test, what's going to happen to me? So let's study real hard and get a good grade - as something as ridiculous as that. Ricky absolutely had no fear, and it never came to Chip's mind to worry about anything."
Tony Dutrow occasionally approached his two brothers about how they were living. That didn't go far.
"There was no talking to them, no counseling them," he said. "If you did get their serious side for long enough, they would absolutely tell you, 'Look, Tony, I don't want to be like you.' They would make it clear, 'I know how you are, Tone, but I'm not doing it like you.'"
Now all three are training horses, and training them successfully.
In the late-1980s, Bobby Frankel came to Dick Dutrow's New York barn looking to buy horses. Frankel, a future Hall of Famer, bought a horse and picked up an assistant, Tony Dutrow. Dick Dutrow had slimmed his outfit to 35 horses, all based in New York, and didn't need three sons working in the barn. He certainly wasn't sending Ricky.
Anthony Dutrow in the 2000's
|Year||Starts||Wins||Win %||Earnings||Stakes wins|
* Through Feb. 16, 2010
Dutrow worked for Frankel from 1987 to 1989 before - heeding Frankel's urging - going out on his own. He has worked for only two trainers - Dutrow Sr. and Frankel.
"I remember Dad coming to me and saying Frankel needs somebody - 'I think it would be good for you,'" Dutrow said. "So I listened to Dad and did it."
He went to Fair Grounds with a small string for Frankel, then ran Frankel's barn in New York for three years. Dutrow observed and learned, doing his business without drama or attention. He struck out on his own, combining what had come naturally and what had been nurtured.
"Bobby and my father went to work every day," Dutrow said. "It had nothing to do with yesterday or tomorrow or statistics. They went to work and were all about getting it right today. All day long, every day, they were about getting this horse in stall 18 right today. Then they would go to stall 19, and let's get this horse squared away for today.
"That's what I try to do," he said. "Come out here and get it right today."
Dutrow struggled to make a living for the first decade but has gradually improved his stock and his results.
In recent years, major clients Mercedes Stable, Edward Evans, Fox Hill Farm, and Susan and John Moore have made Dutrow's todays a lot easier. Good horses from well-positioned owners have put him in the sport's limelight for the first time. Dutrow trained Grade 1 winner Burning Roma and multiple stakes winner Smart and Fancy and got the most out of what he was given. But now it's different.
"He's getting a shot," Rick Dutrow said. "I'm kind of surprised it didn't come along a while ago. Tone's always done good. Now he's getting good horses."
"Tone's a lot better around people than me and Chip," he said. "He's very sharp. It's tough to get by us in the racing game. We were brought up the right away around the horses. All three of us are the same. I'm proud of him, proud of both of my brothers."
With high-priced stock, Tony Dutrow sent horses to Florida for the first time this winter and won five races from his first 16 starts at Gulfstream Park.
He knows this is a moment not to be squandered.
"You hope they win because the kind of people you're training for want to win," he said. "They're not going to stay with you because you do a great job. They want to win."
As of Feb. 16, Dutrow had won 20 races from 72 starters with $640,349 in purses to place eighth in national earnings for 2010. Last year, he finished 14th on the earnings list, hitting at 28 percent, tied with his brother Rick for the best strike rate among the top 40 North American-based trainers on the earnings list.
Seattle Smooth, owned by Mercedes Stable, won all three of her starts for Tony Dutrow last year - the Ogden Phipps, Shuvee, and Bed o' Roses handicaps. Cat Moves, owned by Evans, won the Prioress.
Cuff Me, owned by Bill Heiligbrodt, went to Gulfstream this winter undefeated in three starts. Evans's A Little Warm won the Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream in January, and Fox Hill's Laus Deo won the Count Fleet at Aqueduct before requiring throat surgery. And Fox Hill's Winslow Homer won the Holy Bull.
Like all trainers, Dutrow balances the wave of bad news and the trickle of good news. He was genuinely unfazed by Winslow Homer's derailment, an attitude that he and his brothers learned from their dad.
Tony Dutrow described his dad as a training machine who demanded results from his sons and his horses. Rick Dutrow described him as tough.
"Dad was tough to get along with no matter who you were," Rick Dutrow said. "Tone had his things with dad. So did I, and so did Chip. Good horseman, though."
Rick stayed in New York when his dad went back to Maryland. Chip worked for both brothers until going out on his own in 2008. Tony made a living on the Mid-Atlantic circuit. All three sons have developed a rational, down-to-earth approach to training horses. They keep it simple and run their good horses sparingly, going for hand-picked spots with fresh horses.
Tony Dutrow turns out his turf horses for the winter, brings them back breathing fire for a deliberately short season on the East Coast turf, figuring he'll make more money in fewer starts than his competitors who went south for the winter. Like Frankel taught him, make today right.
If Winslow Homer has a shin, you've got to make that shin right. Kentucky Derby? That's not today.
"A trainer's job is to safely put a horse on the racetrack to run very fast," Dutrow said. "The client is the guy who's taking all the risk. He's putting up all his money, and how much chance does one client have at the spring races?"
Fox Hill Farm's Rick Porter wanted this approach when he hired Dutrow last year to take over for the retiring Larry Jones. Porter spent many years with Servis, then switched to Jones, and now has about 16 horses with Dutrow and another half a dozen with Barclay Tagg.
Porter knows the game, riding the highs of Hard Spun and weathering the lows of Eight Belles.
"Tony called me on Monday morning and told me he was going to take a picture of a shin," Porter said. "He called me back and spit it out: 'We've got a problem with Winslow Homer. He's got to have some surgery.' Tony said he was sorry. I said I was sorry for him, too. Just one of those things.
"You can tell right away he's a straight shooter," he said. "When I hired him, I said, 'I know the majority of the horses aren't going to be graded stakes winners. When they've got to go, they've got to go.' "
Dutrow has never had a problem with that approach. He figures it's in his owners' best interest to know quickly that they own a maiden claimer and not a stakes horse. Dutrow figures that owners spend $40,000, $50,000 a year to maintain a horse. He won't lead them on.
Again, it's different with good horses. Dutrow knew Cat Moves was good and didn't run her as a
2-year-old because he didn't like the way her ankles looked. With Winslow Homer, he knew the horse was good so he picked two maiden races for him as a 2-year-old, letting him break badly and get dirt in his face in the first one and then going for a two-turn allowance race at Philadelphia Park to continue his education.
Reserved and calculating, Dutrow learned this approach from two masters, Frankel and Dutrow Sr. Frankel started with claimers and gradually built it into one of the game's best stables. Dutrow Sr. started with claimers, dabbled with stakes horses, and won with everything.
Dick Dutrow grew up in Hagerstown, Md., and fell for the carthorse who delivered the milk. That led him to the Hagerstown race meeting, basically a short fair meet, then to the other meets at Cumberland, Bel Air, Marlborough, and Charles Town. He started training young, leading the nation in wins in 1975, and went at it full tilt until he died of cancer in 1999 at age 61.
"It wasn't like you made any money, but you loved those horses," Tony Dutrow said. "You loved going in there taking care of those horses, felt really proud when you got him out to the racetrack, got him back to the barn and cooled him out, rubbed him down, put him in the ice. When you were done, he had a nice bed, nice hay rack. You got him shined up nice. You're just looking at the deal and feel really good you got all that done. It was hard work getting it done, because you were a little kid. My dad was always a winner, so you knew all your efforts were going into a horse who was going to go over to the races and run good."
With about 90 horses spread among Aqueduct, Philadelphia Park, and Palm Meadows, Tony Dutrow has a full plate of training charts, feeding patterns, work tabs, and traveling. He was at Aqueduct on Thursday, the day before he visited Philadelphia Park, where he hand-checked every horse in every stall. Then he headed back to Florida for Saturday training. That doesn't leave a lot of time for his family.
Dutrow figures his only advantage over other horsemen is to work hard. He can handle Winslow Homer's injury because he can look back at everything he has done and know it was thought out. But he is spending more time with his horses than he is with his own sons, now ages 14, 16, and 17.
"I'm not going to speak for other trainers on this, because this is a sensitive subject, but for me, my family has suffered," he said. "I do not put the time into my family as I should. I can't do my horses to the level I want to and be a great family man. Love my wife, love my kids. Really love my wife and really love my kids. My wife does a fantastic job and I do what I can, but if the boys have a wrestling match and I've got a horse in the stake, I'm going to the horse in the stake."
Dutrow has tried to pique his sons' interest in racing, taking them to the barn in the morning, the races in the afternoon, but it has never stuck.
"I totally am aware that I don't have it figured out, that I am wrong," he said. "I know that. There is no question in my mind the sacrifices I'm making with my family are a big mistake, and I know that. Us three boys were at the barn or at the races all the time with our dad. It was fortunate that we loved it all. We were together all the time. If we did not like horses, we would have been without a dad."
* Handicapping roundups from Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Oaklawn, and Aqueduct
* Jay Privman's Q&A with Bob Duncan, a former starter who worked with Quality Road
* Matt Hegarty gives a primer on how insuring racehorses has changed over the years
* Marty McGee on Lost Aptitude, a Dale Romans turf horse who makes his dirt debut in the Fountain of Youth
* Plus video analysis of the weekend's biggest stakes