Big Brown trainer gets 15-day suspension

Rick Dutrow, trainer of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Big Brown, is facing a 15-day suspension after a horse in his care tested positive for an excessive amount of a medication in a stakes race at Churchill Downs on May 2.

Salute the Count, an 8-year-old gelding by Count the Time, tested positive for 41 picograms per milliliter of clenbuterol, well above the allowable limit of 25 picograms in Kentucky, after running second in the Grade III Aegon Turf Sprint.

In another blow to racing, the Daily Racing Form reported last night that trainer Steve Asmussen is facing a suspension in Texas after a filly in his care, Timber Trick, tested positive for lidocaine.

Karen Murphy, Asmussen's attorney, told the Form that the trainer would be served notice Thursday.

Asmussen trains Curlin, the 2007 Horse of the Year. Curlin is currently No. 1 in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Thoroughbred Poll. Big Brown is No. 3.

Lidocaine is a local anesthetic that can deaden pain in a horse's legs, according to the Form. The drug is delivered by injection and is widely used for therapeutic purposes, although it is prohibited on race day.

In Kentucky, John Veitch, chief state steward for the state's Horse Racing Authority, said Dutrow waived his right to a formal hearing and has 10 days to appeal.

Veitch said the penalty, scheduled to begin July 6, was in line with those doled out in the past for similar offenses. He also said that Dutrow ”indicated on Sunday he would appeal whatever the ruling was.“

In addition to the suspension, Salute the Count's owners, Michael Dubb and Robert Joscelyn, would have to return the $20,000 in purse money they received.

The notoriously brash Dutrow has been plagued by numerous violations throughout his career, having been fined or suspended every year since 2000. This current violation is his first in Kentucky.

Michael Iavarone, co-president of IEAH Stables, which owns Big Brown, called Dutrow's latest violation ”a disappointment,“ especially in light of the fact IEAH issued a release Monday saying it would adopt a drug-free policy with the exception of Lasix for all its horses effective October 1.

”We would hope not to see this on any of our horses,“ Iavarone said. ”There is nothing I can really say in his defense because he's a big boy and he has to know what the rules are. As far as our horses go, we're as cut and dry as it gets as to what the rules are.“

When asked if IEAH would consider transferring horses currently with Dutrow to another trainer, Iavarone replied, ”It's a conversation we will have with our partners.“

A post-race drug test for Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, the highest-profile horse owned by IEAH and trained by Dutrow, was negative, as as were all tests of Derby entrants.

Dutrow's latest violation comes nearly a week after he was a no-show for a congressional hearing on the safety and welfare of racehorses.

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, the ranking Republican on the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, thinks Dutrow's current misstep is further proof of the industry's struggles to regulate medication.

”It reiterates once again that there is a real problem,“ Whitfield said Wednesday. ”Dutrow is such a prominent name and trainer, and he's had problems in the past and this just reinforces the need for more stringent rules.“

Should Dutrow appeal, he would be granted a stay of his suspension until a hearing is held before an administrative officer. The hearing must take place within 30 days from the time the appeal is filed.

”I was there all week and am responsible,“ Dutrow told the New York Times. ”I use that medication on many of my horses and only once can ever remember having a problem with it.“

In 2004, Dutrow was fined $1,000 after Starship Smokester, a 4-year-old mare in his care, tested positive for clenbuterol after winning a 6-furlong race at Aqueduct that January.

The Herald-Leader's attempts Wednesday to reach Dutrow were unsuccessful.

If the suspension is upheld, he would be barred from being on racetrack property, and horses in his care would have to be transferred to another trainer during that time. He would also be banned from having contact with owners or any trainers taking over the preparation of his horses.

Veitch said the level of clenbuterol in Salute the Count's system was the highest he had seen in about four years. He added that it was possible a mistake could have caused such a high overage.

”It certainly could have been a mistake depending on who is administering it in the barn, whether they just treated the wrong horse and didn't realize it or whoever was in charge didn't realize that horse was entered to run; all kinds of mistakes could be made,“ Veitch said.

In Kentucky, clenbuterol may be administered up to 72 hours before the scheduled post time of the race in which the horse is to compete.

After initial tests at the Iowa State University lab detected the overage, a split sample was sent to Louisiana State University, which confirmed the result.

Clenbuterol is one of the more common approved medications on the backstretch and is generally used as a breathing aid and to treat allergies. Although it can be a therapeutic drug, it does have a high potential to influence performance and can have steroidlike properties in the long term.

”It's actually a very beneficial drug as a bronchodilator because horses are very prone to small airway diseases and they live in a dirty environment in a stall,“ said Dr. Rick Arthur, who practiced veterinary medicine privately for more than 30 years before becoming equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board. ”It is formulated as a syrup and is administered orally.“

”It's one of the more common violations we have in California and ... like most violations, it is usually because of a management error.“