05/17/2012 10:27AM

Rick Dutrow looking at busy week with Preakness longshot, court date

Barbara D. Livingston
Zetterholm comes into the Preakness off three straight victories in New York-bred competition.

Richard Dutrow Jr., trainer of 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, will thrust himself into the national spotlight again on Saturday when he brings the 20-1 longshot Zetterholm to Pimlico for the 137th Preakness Stakes.

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While Dutrow will be attempting to win one of horse racing’s biggest prizes, it is far from the most important contest the 52-year-old trainer faces in the coming days.

Next Tuesday, Dutrow’s appeal of a 10-year license revocation handed him last October by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board will be heard in court in the state capital of Albany. Attorneys for Dutrow and the racing and wagering board – who have already filed written briefs with the court – will be given approximately 10 minutes to argue their positions orally before a judge. The judge, who will have the opportunity to question each attorney, could render his decision in four to eight weeks.

For his part, Dutrow said “we’re going to fight them till the end.”

Last Oct. 12, the racing and wagering board announced its decision to revoke Dutrow’s license and fine him $50,000 for a postrace positive of one of his horses at Aqueduct and the unlicensed possession of hypodermic syringes containing the drug xyzaline, an analgesic and tranquilizer, that were found in the desk drawer of Dutrow’s barn office. Both incidents took place in November 2010.

In announcing the penalties, the board said it took into account other violations Dutrow has had since 2003, including a positive for the anesthetic mepivacaine in New York and positives for clenbuterol, a broncho-dilator, in New York and Kentucky. In the spring of 2011, Kentucky denied Dutrow a license, which has translated in Dutrow not seeking a license in other jurisdictions such as New Jersey.

Currently, Dutrow has a valid license and is permitted to run in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida.

The racing and wagering board believes Dutrow’s history of rules violations demonstrates that his conduct, character, and general fitness make his participation in the sport “detrimental to the best interests of horse racing.”

One point that Dutrow’s attorneys will argue at Tuesday’s hearing is that John Sabini’s dual role as chairman of the racing board and secretary/treasurer of the Association of Racing Commissioners International – which in Feb. 2011 called for the New York board to review Dutrow’s trainer’s license – was a conflict of interest.

“What one of his boards vigorously requested and advocated for his other board controlled and decided,” Michael Koenig, Dutrow’s attorney, argues in his brief.

In its brief, the New York racing board argues Sabini “had no involvement in the decision to commence” the review of Dutrow’s license.

When the racing board announced its penalties on Dutrow, Sabini was chairman-elect of the Racing Commissioners International.

Dutrow has grown weary of reading about the numerous violations he has committed. There are 84 mentions of Dutrow in the racing commissioners’ report, but to claim all are drug violations would be a gross mischaracterization.

Some are multiple mentions of the same infractions. Also, there are numerous fines for administrative offenses such as not having foal papers on files or failure to have an owner’s silks in the jockeys’ room. There are even a couple of times his name is mentioned with having his license reinstated.

Consistent with the position he took last spring during his three-day hearing before the racing board, Dutrow feels he is being unfairly singled out. He believes he has been given penalties that are rarely, if ever, assessed to other trainers. In 2007, Dutrow was fined for billing his owners while on suspension in 2005. Dutrow also was fined and suspended for running a horse who one owner claimed and transferred to another owner, who was not eligible to claim.

“So now they add up all these suspensions that they’ve given me and now they want to run me out of the game,” Dutrow said. “That’s not fair.”

Dutrow steadfastly denies that he cheats. And one statistic he uses to support his claim is that he hasn’t had a horse suffer a fatal breakdown in New York since Mansion of Thought broke down on May 24, 2007. Since then, Dutrow has started 1,691 horses (through Wednesday) on the New York Racing Association circuit without a breakdown.

“It would be different if I’m going out there and every month one of my horses breaks down,’ Dutrow said. “It’s been five years. It shows you how close we watch our horses, how well we take care of them, and how important they are to us. This is what we do.”

Dr. Larry Bramlage, a nationally prominent veterinarian who was one of six witnesses to testify on Dutrow’s behalf during a three-day hearing held by the racing board last spring, praised Dutrow’s handling of his horses.

“I am very, very happy to work on Rick Dutrow’s horses. He takes excellent care of them,” Bramlage said this week. “There isn’t anybody that’s better picking out when a horse goes off form and needs to be looked at to find out what the problem is. If all trainers handled their horses the way Rick handles them, you’d imagine what the breakdown statistic would be.”

Despite his legal troubles, Dutrow is enjoying a solid year, ranking ninth nationally with 58 wins and 14th in purse money won ($2,614,268).

In Zetterholm, he brings a horse to the Preakness who has won three consecutive races restricted for New York-breds. In 2010, Dutrow finished fourth in the Preakness with the New York-bred Yawanna Twist, who was 16-1 after finishing second in the Gotham and Illinois Derby.

“I’ve liked the way this horse has progressed,” Dutrow said of Zetterholm. “I think his last race was his best race, he’s got plenty of time coming into this race and I think it makes sense for us. Our horse is doing really good, man. If he likes that track and he gets a good trip, I can’t see him running up the track. I’m expecting him to get a piece of it, to tell you the truth. I don’t think we’re taking a big-time gamble.”