Congressman queries regulators on Dutrow penalty

An Illinois congressman wants to know why Kentucky racing regulators gave Thoroughbred trainer Rick Dutrow only a 15-day suspension after his horse tested positive for Clenbuterol at Churchill Downs.

Dutrow's appeal of the suspension was scheduled to be heard today but he has asked for an extension, according to Lisa Underwood, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

”We've told him he needs to hire a lawyer,“ Underwood said late Monday. A new hearing date has not yet been set. ”We want to have the hearing as quickly as possible,“ she said.

The commission could increase or decrease the penalty.

In a letter released Monday, Rep. Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., questioned the Kentucky Derby winner's penalty, ”given the nature of the violation and Mr. Dutrow's history of past offense.“

Under Kentucky statute, Dutrow could have been suspended for up to six months for a second offense and up to two years for a third.

According to Association of Racing Commissioners International data, Dutrow has had at least a dozen violations in four other states since 2002.

The letter of inquiry to KHRC chairman Robert M. Beck Jr. points out that Dutrow was suspended for a month and fined $1,000 in 2004 in New York for illegal levels of Clenbuterol.

The drug is a legal bronchial dilator that also can alter the muscle to fat ratio. It cannot be given within 72 hours of a race in Kentucky; Dutrow's horse reportedly had twice the legal limit.

”This matter raises serious concerns about the effectiveness of the sport's current regulatory system,“ wrote Rush, who chaired a June congressional hearing on racing medication.

The hearing came in the wake of public outcry over the breakdowns of Derby runner-up Eight Belles and Derby winner Barbaro.

Kentucky's Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, also on the panel, has threatened federal intervention if states don't act. His office had no comment on Monday.

Underwood said higher penalties are triggered by the type of drug. He said offenses before September 2005 cannot be considered.

Dutrow's horse, Salute the Count, tested positive in the fifth race on Kentucky Oaks Day; the 8-year-old gelding finished second in the Grade III Aegon Turf Sprint.

Dutrow was originally scheduled to be suspended from training from July 6 through July 20, but he appealed and can continue to race until the matter is settled, which could be some time.

He is racing Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown in Sunday's $1 million Haskell Invitational in New York.

Dutrow has said the Clenbuterol overage was ”a mistake.“ Rush's letter requested a response by Aug. 1. Underwood said she will be drafting a reply.