09/16/2009 11:00PM

Dutrow sees better ahead

Bill Denver/Equiphotos
Owner Paul Pompa Jr. (left) has increasingly turned to trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., citing a "comfort level."

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Richard Dutrow Jr.'s numbers are down this year, but he certainly isn't.

One year removed from enjoying the best season of his training career - as well as being the focal point of everything that was good and bad about Thoroughbred racing - Dutrow, 50, has been out of the spotlight for the majority of 2009. That could be about to change.

Through Tuesday, Dutrow has started only 307 horses this year, with 84 victories. He will most likely finish 2009 with the lowest number of starters and winners in a year since he went 111 for 448 in 2001.

"There's no reason for it, it's just the way that it is," said Dutrow, who noted that he has done less claiming this year than in years past. "It doesn't have me down in any kind of way, because every time I come to the barn I got nothing but good horses around me. That's what a trainer dreams of. It looks like we're building up on quality instead of quantity, and that's what I like."

Between the 80 horses he has split between Aqueduct and Monmouth Park and the dozens more he has recuperating on farms, Dutrow says he has eight or nine Grade 1 winners in the barn. That includes horses like Stardom Bound, Court Vision, Backseat Rhythm, and Kip Deville. Benny the Bull is a Grade 1 winner, but his connections are leaning toward retiring him.

Also, Dutrow believes he has the best crop of 2-year-olds he has ever trained, a group led by D' Funnybone, who starts as the probable favorite in Saturday's Grade 2, $250,000 Futurity at Belmont Park. D' Funnybone was purchased privately by Paul Pompa Jr. following his second start at Calder Race Course. In his first start for Dutrow, D' Funnybone won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special by 10 1/2 lengths, perhaps the best performance turned in by a juvenile colt at Saratoga.

"I wasn't expecting that - I don't think anybody was," Dutrow said. "He's a cool little horse."

Pompa is one of the owners who has Dutrow feeling good about life. Pompa was the original owner of Big Brown before Michael Iavarone and Richard Schiavo's IEAH Stables bought 75 percent interest in the colt following his smashing debut win at Saratoga in the fall of 2007 and turned him over to Dutrow. Pompa stayed in for 25 percent and stayed in the background even as Big Brown reeled off impressive wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before being eased in the Belmont Stakes.

Earlier this year, Pompa decided to transfer a large number of horses to Dutrow, including the Grade 1 winner Backseat Rhythm. In addition, Pompa recently bought horses like D' Funnybone and Mary's Follies and turned them over to Dutrow.

"Initially, I thought he was going to be difficult to deal with, be a bit aloof," Pompa said. "Of the guys I use now he's one of the easiest to deal with, he communicates with you. He calls it straight, he doesn't care what you pay for a horse. . . . When I was forced to make a trainer change earlier this year, I decided that the comfort level I have with him and the confidence I have in him is what triggered me to give him a lot of my horses."

D' Funnybone is one of 25 2-year-olds Dutrow has in his stable. Another is Homeboykris, who was purchased privately by owner Louis Lazzinnaro after a maiden win in July at Calder. Then there's Unprecedented, a son of Saint Liam - whom Dutrow trained to Horse of the Year honors in 2005. A $400,000 yearling purchase made by Samantha Siegel's Jay Em Ess Stable, Unprecedented has Dutrow over the moon. Dutrow said he called William Warren, the owner of Saint Liam, to tell him how much he thinks Unprecedented reminds him of his sire, who died at 6 after an abbreviated stud career.

"He looks exactly like him, acts like him, everything is just like Saint Liam," Dutrow said. "I think I got the right Saint Liam."

One reason for Dutrow's numbers being down this year is because he had to give a lot of horses time off following the spring. This Ones for Phil, who won the Swale via disqualification, is on his way back and being pointed to next year's Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream.

Early on, Dutrow was given 3-year-olds Patena and Danger to Society by owners who had hopes of getting to the Kentucky Derby. Those horses weren't ready for prime time. Patena finished next-to-last in both the Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass. Danger to Society has not run since finishing next-to-last in the Arkansas Derby. They, too, are on the comeback trail.

"I like those horses," Dutrow said. "They're nice horses. I guess we didn't play their game when they were ready to play the game. But you got to try for the owners and the horses to make the big races. It just didn't happen with them."

In addition to those horses, Dutrow is trying to bring back Court Vision and Stardom Bound. Court Vision, who is winless in five starts this year, is being pointed to the Grade 2 Kelso here on Oct. 4. Stardom Bound, who has not run since finishing third in the Grade 1 Ashland in April, has breezed three times since returning to Dutrow's barn. Dutrow said, though, Stardom Bound has not been pushing off the right way behind and he will wait another week or so before breezing her again. Her goal is the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.

"We're under the impression we got things straightened out, but we're not going to know for sure for about two weeks," Dutrow said.

As good a fall as Dutrow could have, it will be interrupted by a 30-day suspension he must take beginning Nov. 15. The suspension stems from the horse Salute the Count having a prohibited level of clenbuterol, a bronchial dilator, in his system following a second-place finish in the 2008 Aegon Turf Sprint.

"It's not going to be hard for me to take off," Dutrow said. "I've been going strong since my last suspension. I come to the barn 365 days a year. By taking a little time off, it'll probably do me good, and my help good, because they like having a lot of responsibility, too, and they're very good."

In his run toward the Triple Crown last year, Dutrow became a controversial figure for his admitted use of the steroid Winstrol once a month in his horses. Dutrow's admission - and the success of Big Brown - prompted a congressional hearing into the sport and ultimately a ban on the use of steroids.

"Winstrol is the only steroid that I know I ever used," Dutrow said. "And I didn't use it for making my horses run faster, I didn't know that you could - I didn't know that that's what it does. It keeps their coats shining, keeps them brighter and more into things. I never thought about it as being an angle."

Dutrow believes fast horses don't need any help, and he believes he has plenty of fast ones in the barn.

"If the horses stay the way they are now and progress the way they're supposed to do, we're going to win some big races," he said. "We're not done."