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Monday, November 21, 2011

Ten Years, Too Long

Two more starters and two more winners for one Richard E. Dutrow, Jr. on Sunday. That's five in a row, and an overall record at the Big A of 13 winners from 25 starters, an ungodly winning percentage of 52%. No start in 261 days for Groomedforvictory ($5.40) since he was claimed for $62,500 at Gulfstream? No problem. What's that you say, Head Heart Hoof ($7.30) weakened in this class his last two starts? Nothing a little Ramon magic couldn't cure.

Dutrow is surely making a mockery out of....well, something or somebody, I guess. Or maybe the mockery is the system itself, which has allowed trainers like he and a host of other multi-violators to escape with relative impunity over the years. But it's not like Dutrow is making any special effort to show anyone up, or to prove anything at this time as some have suggested, facetiously or otherwise: none of those five in a row were dropping in class, and only three of his 13 winners at the meet have done so (and all three were perfectly legitimate cases of overmatched horses seeking their levels).

I posted about Dutrow's suspension a few weeks ago, at which time I said that the suspension was so out of proportion that I couldn't even form an opinion about its ten-year length. But I'm coming around to the point of view that it's indeed so out of proportion that's it's just plain wrong.

I also wrote then that it seems fairly obvious to me that the New York board was under pressure by elements of the national industry to do its bidding for them. There seems to be this idea that dishonest trainers cause lack of confidence amongst bettors, which is contributing to the decline in handle. Personally, I think that's a very small factor in what ails the industry, if one at all. For whatever it's worth, maybe nothing in this case, horseplayers don't seem to be too bothered by Dutrow still being in the game. 5-2 has been the highest price on any of his winners during this streak, with two of them well under even money; $5.30 is the median payoff overall for the meet. So the betting public...yes, those very poor fools who have been so terribly wronged by the trainer over the years....has had no problem backing him.

Look, I've never really been one to consider the "betting public" as being so sacrosanct. Dutrow is a cheater, there's little doubt about that. Then again, so was Gaylord Perry, and he's in the Hall of Fame. But there's this idea that the "betting public" needs to be so coddled and protected, and - just my point of view as a recreational horseplayer - I've never felt that way. The game comes with all of the imperfections that go with an enterprise in which I am willfully gambling my hard-earned money on dumb animals owned and trained by human beings with methods and secrets of their own that, in the pursuit of a profit, they are not willing to disclose. To me, part of the handicapping equation is to discern the motives of the humans who send the horses out to race. I mean, anyone who is under any illusion that they should, could, or ever will be entitled to know everything that the connections do should probably be putting their money in a safe place, else.

That's just my take, you may disagree vociferously, and that's fine, let me have it. I don't take this nearly as seriously as many of you; certainly not those trying to make a living from it, that's for sure. Of course, if Dutrow has been indeed abusing his animals, then that's a whole other story. If you have evidence that that's the case, please let me know. However, I've never heard that as part of this discussion. Besides, the notion of "abuse" in this context, far short of a Paragallo situation (at least as far as I can see), is, in my opinion, an abstract one in a sport where, every single day, you can see low-level animals get beaten mercilessly by whips as they struggle, exhausted by their early efforts, just to make it to the wire. (That's your celebrated dirt racing, folks.)

And what exactly constitutes cheating the public in this game, anyway? We scream if a horse has a minute amount of some drug or other in its system, and blame the trainer even if he/she was 1,000 miles away. But it's OK for a trainer to go on national television before the Dirt Mile and be like "oh yeah, we knew he wouldn't win that two-turn race, we were just setting him up for this, so sorry about those bettors who made him 2-1 that day"?

So, yes, I think that the ten-year suspension for Dutrow was too harsh, at least considering the precedent, as well as the free-wheeling and, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the sometimes inhumane sport in which he plies his trade. Yes, he in large part brought it upon himself with his brash and dismissive attitude towards the attempts to punish him. But I disagree that he deserves to be made an example of in this way, for the sake of making certain points that I don't necessarily agree are valid ones. And besides, just maybe, considering the build-up to the Board's decision, had it not overreached and ruled a suspension more in line - a year, maybe two? - perhaps Dutrow would have breathed a sigh of relief, given us a wave and a final 'Hey babe,' taken off for a vacation, and we wouldn't be having this discussion at all.


Anonymous said...

Reform must start somewhere, why not with Dutrow? Heck, take it one step further and say why not start with all of Dutrow's win-at-any-cost owners who continue to support a man they KNOW cheats?

Reform must start somewhere. Today Dutrow, tomorrow P. Val and on Friday lets look at Henry Witt and his trainer Dudley Grahm.

My problem isn't exactly with the fact that the bettors are getting screwed (although their screwing makes industry growth stagnate); my issue is that when the rules are broken, often times the horse is abused to do so. Sure, the drug may mask the pain and the horse wins but if he is in enough pain that he needs to be drugged then he shouldn't be in the race to begin with. And AFTER the race (assuming he lives) his issue is just going to be that much worse.

Reform must start somewhere. Draw and quarter the MF and move onto the next cheater.

steve in nc said...

Remember Alan that Dutrow has been nailed, what, 64 times? And although some may have been nano-quantities, if this doesn't constitute a pattern, what does?

Perhaps 10 years is a bit much, but there does need to be some real bite in the penalty regime. It isn't about coddling me or any other bettor - it is simply enforcing the basic rules of the game to ensure fairness, and some measure of form.

How are we supposed to play when faced with a horse like Associate, who moved up 30 Beyer points after being claimed away from 19% trainer Linda Rice, despite having already tried the surface & distance numerous times. And then, does he bounce next race? No, he does it again. Why? That should be investigated.

Dutrow's not the only one, but he's one who got caught. I'm not under the illusion that this or any other game will ever be totally clean, but we can do much better than the current "give the horses to the assistant for a month or three and train by phone" system.

Others have come up with some sensible ideas, including penalizing owners on an increasing scale, so they would become, we hope, once caught, twice shy of shady trainers.

To me, banned substances are a totally different thing than "we were using that race as a prep." Sports bettors know that regular season games are not the same as playoff games and need to figure accordingly

But they shouldn't have to worry about one player or team suddenly being allowed to cork the bat or put goo on the ball. (If Perry had been caught 64 times, would you have advocated another 2 inning suspension?)

Maybe it was the shoes, or the ever-popular throat surgery, but when Associate came back 15 lengths faster less than 2 months after being claimed from Linda Rice, it sure looked like he had the horse racing version of a corked bat, delivered by syringe from the trainer caught with a syringe in his barn.

I for one hope this is Dutrow's last winning streak, and that they start freezing samples and requiring trainers to face criminal penalties if future tests reveal current cheating.

Teresa said...

Steve, most of those 64 violations weren't medication violations, which is not to excuse or defend him.

Here's the list. It's not current, only goes to 2008.

Figless said...

I was once told by a horseman that Dutrow was dangerous because he was an excellent horseman, AND he pushes the envelope.

Far from the only one however, but clearly the most intransigent.

But I tend to agree with Alan on this, it accomplishes nothing to scapegoat, and thats clearly what happened here.

To truly have an impact three steps need to be taken;

1.) Finally standardize levels of medication across jurisdictions, with true science behind the levels allowed or disallowed, not sure some racing boards interpretation.

2.) Publicize and clarify the rules and the penalties in a "three strikes and you're out manner", with amnesty for prior offenses.

3.) Put teeth in the penalties, including banning all horses in the offending barn for a significant period (and yes, the offending owner too, sorry, but too many of the "hot trainer du juor"'s over the year has the same owner base (think (names readacted) guys like that who couldnt train a dog to sit and suddenly had 40% win rates).)

4. And last, and most importantly, enforce these rules equitably, whethar a Grade One or a 5k claimer. The appeal process should be spelled out in advance, with a reasonable time for due diligence, but absolutely no plea bargain deals. Do the crime, do the time, as immediately as possible with no exceptions for Stakes races. ALL horses are suspended during the appeal, that will get the process moving.

Once done you can get to work on the stewards, jockeys and incompetant gate crews (my pet peeve) that also taint the game.

Figless said...

Four steps :)

**Gate Crews need to be licensed and bonded, in no other industry are such underpaid people place in the position of effecting millions of dollars of investments without any scrutiny whatsoever.

Figless said...

Dutrows rap sheet sure reads like a addict being derelict in his duties more than a cheater, at least until recently. Sloppy management from an arrogant fool.

I suspect they all got tired of his act.

Not to excuse his behavior, of course, its the inconsitancy that rubs me wrong.

Anonymous said...

Figless said...
I was once told by a horseman that Dutrow was dangerous because he was an excellent horseman, AND he pushes the envelope.

This blog makes the same point.

cheers, Chris

Figless said...

Thx Chris

Figless said...

If you read that blog and the comments (which discuss training methods, specifically the disappearence of the "blow out", which Dutrow still uses), the reason you rarely see true "blowouts" anymore is most horses breeze on Lasix, and it would not be wise to breeze on Lasix two days before a race, it dehydrates them too much. A blow out would need to be done sans' lasix.

You also would not want to "blow out" a sore horse or you might blow a tire.