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Thursday, November 17, 2011
Dutrow's career is far from dead

By Bob Ehalt

A few months back it looked like racing had seen the last of trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. for at least the next 10 years.

Instead, a scene out of a Monty Python movie is now playing out at Aqueduct with Dutrow filling the role of the old man who protested, “I’m not dead.”

Not only is Dutrow’s career as a trainer alive, but his barn has been as hot as it has ever been.

On a legal front, the Kentucky Derby-winning trainer received word Wednesday that the New York State Supreme Court had granted him a stay of a 10-year suspension handed down by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board until his appeals are exhausted.

The most recent charges against Dutrow, whose career is checkered with suspensions for putting banned performance-enhancing substances in his horses, involve the discovery of butorphanol, a painkiller, in a post-race sample from one of his horses in Nov. 2010. A subsequent search of Dutrow’s barn also uncovered three syringes filled with illegal painkillers and muscle relaxers

Meanwhile, on the race track, Dutrow’s legal woes have not stopped his horses from landing in the winner’s circle at an uncanny rate. Since the opening of Aqueduct on Nov. 4 through Wednesday, the 52-year-old trainer has been winning at a head-shaking rate of 57 percent, far beyond the typical average for a Big Apple trainer. Dutrow, who has been winning at 26 percent clip for the entire year, has won with 8 of his first 14 starters at the Big A, with 12 of them finishing in the money.

Even more startling is the manner in which some of Dutrow’s horses have crushed their opposition.

Let’s start with Associate. Dutrow claimed him on July 24 from trainer Linda Rice for $35,000 out of a turf race in which the 3-year-old colt finished eighth. After a two-month layoff, Associate made his debut for Dutrow on Sept. 23 at Belmont in a $35,000 claimer that was washed off the turf course and run on a sloppy main track. Associate won by 10 lengths with a Beyer Speed Figure 33 points higher than his career best.

While some horses are mud freaks, the difference in the Rice-trained Associate and the Dutrow-trained Associate was more powerfully illustrated when Associate was entered in a Nov. 11 allowance race on a fast track and won by eight lengths in an equally dazzling final time.

Another transformation came from Zip Quik. On Oct. 8, Dutrow claimed Zip Quik from trainer Carlos Martin for $10,000 out of a race in which he finished 7th, more than 12 lengths behind the winner. Zip Quick made his debut for Dutrow on Nov. 12 in a $15,000 claimer and won by a head at 6-1.

To a lesser degree there was the case of I Know You Know. The 2-year-old had been second in a stakes at Delaware Park for Tony Dutrow, Rick’s brother. Running in a maiden race for Rick on Nov. 13, I Know You Know figured to win for his new trainer, except she did it by 7 lengths in a time significantly faster than her effort in the stakes.

Right now, it seems as if everything Dutrow touches turns to gold, except, of course, his legal issues which will need more than a stroke of a magic wand to go away. The stay has no bearing on the appeal, which could go down in flames and put Dutrow in the penalty box for a decade.

But until a final verdict is rendered on the appeal -- and that could be months from now -- it seems as if it will be business as usual this winter for Dutrow, which can be best described as making a mockery of the system. In a controversial career that has seen him survive more than 60 violations, he’s once again getting a laugh that may or not be his last by winning races at an astonishing rate while the game’s regulators try to banish him.

Like a Monty Python movie, it would be funny, if only it wasn’t so sad.