04/08/2002 12:00AM

Scratched owners may sue

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NEW YORK - Richard Dutrow Jr., the trainer of One Tuff Fox, the front-running 3-year-old who was scratched the day of the Illinois Derby for a violation of an obscure state medication rule, said on Monday that the horse's owners are considering taking legal action against the Illinois stewards.

One Tuff Fox, owned by his breeder, Italo-Erin Stables, was scratched after security personnel at Sportsman's Park found the horse unattended after receiving a shot of Lasix, the diuretic used to treat bleeding. Under Illinois rules, horses who receive Lasix must be accompanied by a stable employee at all times on the backstretch.

"We certainly didn't feel like we were treated fairly," Dutrow said. "We didn't know anything about this rule. I've been around the racetrack since I was a little kid, and my father and brother and I have raced in New York, Maryland, New Orleans, New Jersey, and Delaware, and no one has that rule."

The Illinois Derby was going to be a possible Kentucky Derby prep for One Tuff Fox, a speedster who was a late supplement - at a cost of $6,000 - to the Triple Crown. One Tuff Fox won a mile and 40-yard allowance March 4 at Fair Grounds in his first and only start of the year, recording a lofty Beyer Speed Figure of 100 in the process.

Eddie Arroyo, the Illinois state steward, said stewards had no choice but to scratch the horse. He said security personnel found the horse all alone at the stable when they were trying to deliver Dutrow's racing license to the barn.

"We'd do anything to keep a horse of that quality in the race," Arroyo said. "You only get one shot at the Derby, and we'd never do anything to take that away from anyone. But there's no leeway, no exception. We had no choice."

Arroyo also said that a security monitor had testified that she informed One Tuff Fox's groom to stay with the horse at all times after the Lasix shot was administered. Dutrow said the groom left to take a shower.

The scratch was made significant by the fact that, on paper, One Tuff Fox seemed most qualified to challenge the eventual winner, War Emblem, early in the race. War Emblem went on to a front-running win at 6-1, with odds-on favorite Repent far back in second.

War Emblem is owned by Russell Reineman and trained by Frank Springer, both Chicago locals. He was ridden by Larry Sterling, another local product, leading Dutrow to allege that the stewards may have been favoring the "home team."

"It's a local horse, owned by a local owner, trained by a local trainer, and ridden by a local jockey," Dutrow said. "It certainly doesn't look good."

Arroyo categorically denied any favoritism. "That is not how racing works," Arroyo said. "None of us would ever partake in something like that. If it was a shipper or a local, we would have scratched him."