Commentary

In Dutrow case, they got it right

Updated: January 15, 2013, 3:06 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

A trainer has, to say the least, a checkered past. He gets caught doping a horse and with syringes containing other illegal drugs. Then what?

The answer has always been: a small fine and/or a short suspension, with the miscreant putting his horses under the name of an assistant while still doing the real training job. The brief suspension ends, the trainer comes back, continues to win races by the boatload and has no shortage of owners because there are a lot of people out there who want an edge.

Finally, with at least one case, it didn't end up that way.

Barring a successful Hail Mary from his legal team, Rick Dutrow will begin serving a 10-year suspension any day now, a penalty so severe it may mean the 53-year-old will never train again.

Sorry, but I think this is a case of the system working perfectly and regulators hitting the bulls eye.

Dutrow's latest transgressions came late in 2010 when a horse he trained named Fastus Cactus tested positive for the pain-killing drug butorphanol. Seventeen days earlier, Dutrow was found to be in possession of syringes containing a drug called Xylazine. Those offenses were on top of numerous other infractions he had incurred over the years. According to the Association of Racing Commissioners International, Dutrow has received more penalties and suspensions during his career than any other active trainer.

When dealing with illegal drugs and such a controversial figure as Dutrow, there's going to be a lot of people who aren't happy, one way or the other. Some still insist that he was dealt with too lightly, that he should have been banned for life and that it will have taken far too long for the suspension to take effect. There are even some who are supporting Dutrow, saying he has been targeted in a case of selective justice and didn't deserve to be treated so harshly.

Sorry, but I think this is a case of the system working perfectly and regulators hitting the bulls eye.

It's been overlooked that Dutrow's legal team never once argued his innocence. Instead, they based their case on conflict of interest charges against New York State Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John Sabini. The Association of Racing Commissioners International had asked the NYSRWB to consider Dutrow's overall record before deciding on a penalty, a clear indication that it hoped he would be dealt with severely. Since Sabini was on the Board of the RCI, Dutrow's lawyers contended his judgment was clouded.

It was a flimsy argument and every judge that has heard Dutrow's appeal agreed. Really, all Dutrow's lawyer, Michael Keonig, was doing was stalling, a strategy that had its merits. The case began Nov. 3, 2011 when Dutrow was hit with the penalty for the syringes. From then until now, he has won 165 races and his stable has earned 8,456,030. His 10 percent cut put $845,000 in his pocket.

It's frustrating that a person, who had done what Dutrow did, could buy himself so much time, win so many races and make so much money. Yes, he thumbed his nose at those trying to set him down, but it was his right to do so. He had a lot of money, hired a good lawyer and fought to get off or at least delay the inevitable. That's the way it works in this country.

With Dutrow having exhausted virtually every legal channel available to him, he will have to go away for a long time. You could argue that he should have gotten a lifetime ban, but 10 years is meaty enough. What matters is that this won't be a case of business as usual, that he won't be able to operate from the sidelines while a beard fronts for him.

His supporters argue that he was treated far more harshly than anyone else ever has been, and they're not necessarily wrong. But that doesn't mean that Dutrow should have gotten one more slap on the wrist. If regulators have been far too lenient in the past with cheaters, the answer is not to continue to do more of the same. It's to finally crack down on these people.

Going forward, it's important that the Dutrow case becomes a standard-bearer and not an outlier. If the New York State Racing and Wagering Board or anyone else goes back to handing out meaningless fines and suspensions when people cheat then the people that are crying that they were just out to get Dutrow will have a point.

This has been made into a complicated case, and it really isn't. The guy cheated. He got caught. He had his day in court. He was given a penalty that fit the crime. See you in 2023, Rick.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com