Sports

Penalties are no deterrent to trainers

Fifteen days.

That'll show him.

That'll make Rick Dutrow think twice the next time he attempts to stretch his consecutive-year streak of drug suspensions/fines to 10 straight. That'll make Big Brown's outspoken trainer more careful around the barn when it comes to hypodermics and syrup bottles and which horse (wink) should get which dosage (wink) on race day.

Right, babe?

The sad truth about racing's newest twin set of black eyes isn't so much that the sport's two hottest trainers, Dutrow and Steve Asmussen, are both accused of doping, but the inconsistent rules, hypocritical rule-makers and laughable punishments that lead the public to believe, as ESPN's Scott Van Pelt put it on radio this week, that racing is ”a dirty sport.“

It is difficult for the public to think otherwise when, subject to appeal, another of Dutrow's horses has tested above the legal limit of a drug — Salute the Count's dosage of Clenbuterol after finishing second in a turf race on Kentucky Oaks Day.

Now add, subject to appeal, Asmussen, trainer of Horse of the Year Curlin, who is facing a suspension of six months to one year after his horse Timber Trick tested positive for Lidocaine after winning a May 10 race at Lone Star Park.

The Asmussen revelation came a week after Curlin's owner Jess Jackson, a leading voice for race reform, testified before Congress about cleaning up the sport.

Is anyone in racing clean anymore?

Or is the more legitimate question: Does racing even want to be clean?

Take the Dutrow case. Because this is his first offense in Kentucky, the Salute the Count overage does not trigger the state's multiple-offense guidelines. Thus, the mild 15-day suspension, scheduled for July 6-20, that Dutrow is now appealing.

Apologists, and racing is full of those, argue that this particular infraction had more to do with sloppiness than intent to cheat. Dutrow was focusing on Big Brown the week before the Derby and might not have been paying close attention to the other horses in his stable. Salute the Count's co-owner Michael Dubb told the Courier-Journal that he thought Dutrow was a great horse person, ”he's just a lousy administrator.“

Dutrow certainly has the track record to prove it. A search of his New York barn in 2000 produced the existence of a forbidden, injectable vitamin. In 2001, he gave too much Lasix. In 2002, he ”failed to follow Lasix procedures.“ In 2003, he had a horse test positive for Mepivacaine. Since 2004, he has received citations for the misuse of Lasix, Clenbuterol, Phenylbutazone and Oxyphenbutazone.

In 2005, Dutrow served a 60-day suspension when two of his horses tested positive for banned substances. Last year, Dutrow had to serve an additional 14 days and pay $25,000 when it became known that he did not follow the terms of his 2005 suspension.

Yet because none of those priors occurred in Kentucky, history has no bearing on Dutrow's case here. Kentucky is just one of 38 states that has rules and guidelines, most without regard to those of other racing authorities.

Now toss in Asmussen, himself a possible repeat offender. Asmussen served concurrent six-month suspensions from August 2006 through January 2007 after his filly No End in Sight tested positive for the local anesthetic Mepivacaine at Evangeline Downs in New Orleans at about the same time another of Asmussen's horses tested positive for acepromazine in New Mexico.

Six months might sound stiff until you compare it to the lifetime bans issued to athletes who test positive for illegal drugs in cycling and track and field. And those are humans making their own decisions, not defenseless animals without the option of just saying no.

This is ”not as big a deal as everyone is making it out to be,“ Dutrow told the media on Friday at Aqueduct, where he held an impromptu news conference.

He's right. It's only 15 days.

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