04/22/2009 11:00PM

Dutrow case nears end

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Trainer Rick Dutrow's appeal of a 15-day suspension by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for a medication violation at Churchill Downs last May seems headed to a conclusion.

A hearing officer met with Dutrow and legal counsel for the trainer and the commission Thursday in Lexington, marking the second time the officer, Jim Robke, has adjudicated the case. Last fall, Robke overturned the commission's suspension on a technicality.

The commission then decided to return the case to the hearing officer, after gathering supporting documentation and testimony from testing laboratories.

The long-battled suspension stems from the Dutrow-trained Salute the Count testing positive for a prohibitive level of clenbuterol, a bronchial dilator, after he finished second in the fifth race at Churchill Downs on May 2. Salute the Count was disqualified.

The suspension drew national attention, with Dutrow being the trainer of 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown.

When the case was presented last fall, Robke dismissed it because laboratory documents did not indicate that tests were conducted on the horse's blood serum, a state testing requirement. The documents received from two testing laboratories indicated tests being conducted on either plasma or blood.

Serum is the clear liquid that can be separated from clotted blood. Plasma is the liquid portion of normal unclotted blood containing red and white cells and platelets.

In testimony Thursday, officials from testing laboratories at Iowa State University and Louisiana State University said those documents were marked generically, as either plasma or blood. "We wrongly noted that type of sample," said Dr. Steven Barker of LSU.

He said photocopies of Salute the Count's testing tube clearly indicated the lab received serum. "We analyzed a serum sample," he said.

Dutrow did not dispute the findings of the two laboratories and speculated that the overage of clenbuterol was the result of a stable employee, Jose Juan, accidentally giving it to the horse too close to the race.

In Kentucky, horsemen are generally advised to stop treating horses a minimum of 72 hours before a race to avoid a testing overage.

Dutrow said in testimony toward the end of the meeting that he appealed the case to delay serving his 15-day suspension, not wanting to take the time last year when he had horses like Big Brown, Kip Deville, and Benny the Bull "coming up on big races."

Robke has 60 days to render his decision.