Monday, May 14, 2018

A Time for Mercy and Second Chances

It’s axiomatic that times have changed and not for the better. More than at any time in our history, acrimony and discord are the order of the day. Resultantly, recidivism is beating re-assimilation to the finish line in too many instances.

New York State’s #1 citizen, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, recognizing this and believing in the concept of justice augmented by enlightened mercy and second chances, created New York’s Pro Bono Clemency Program.

In support of that philosophy three years ago, Cuomo granted two pardons and two commutations to four convicted criminals who would later turn their lives around and become contributing members of society and the public good.

In this spirit, there are an overarching number of stakeholders in the horse racing community who wish to see the New York Gaming Commission show mercy to one of racing’s own, one who’s happiest when using his unique skills to tend to the animals in his care.

If not for his outstanding ability to provide watchfulness and caution in care of his horses, Richard E. Dutrow would have no life at all. And after more than five years in exile, he wouldn’t want it any other way.

At this posting, 2,154 members of the racing community have agreed by signing a petition introduced by Churchill Downs’ all-time leading trainer, Dale Romans, in support of Dutrow’s reinstatement.

Racing officials, owners, jockeys, fellow trainers and luminaries from the world of medicine, professional sports and business, believe Dutrow is worthy of a second chance.

His reinstatement on the backstretch of America’s racetracks, principally in New York, surely would take money out of their pockets but they nonetheless remain convinced that there is a higher principle at stake in this case.

When the Governor instituted his Clemency Program, he said: “We are taking a critical step toward a more just, fair, and more compassionate New York.

With this initiative, we are seeking to identify those deserving of a second chance and to help ensure that clemency is a more accessible and tangible reality.”

Cuomo recognizes the importance of forgiveness and mercy, especially in scenarios like this one in which a severe, unprecedented punishment was meted out.

And this was in advance of new evidentiary findings which showed that perjured testimony was made against him in an Administrative Hearing that took place more than five years ago.

Despite this discovery, neither Dutrow nor his counsel wish to relitigate the case. What is done is done. The time has come for tempered mercy and for moving on.

Dutrow has promised to submit himself to any manner of inspection deemed necessary by racing or government officials or both. There is nothing to hide here.

In five years on the sidelines, Dutrow has had time to reflect on his life, his inability to filter his words or how much those words have embarrassed the industry he loves.

To atone for that, Dutrow performed good works in service to horses and people. It became part of a personal reformation. By any measure, they were nothing less than acts of contrition.

In addition to the Clemency Program, there is a second remedy for the Gaming Commission to consider: Section 470.15 of Criminal Procedure Law:

“As a matter of discretion, and in the ‘instance of justice’, discretionary power specifically includes the authority to reduce a sentence because that punishment, ‘though legal, was unduly harsh or severe’.”

Dutrow’s 10-year revocation was harsher than those assessed one trainer who administered a narcotic painkiller, Darvon; a second on one who used an illegal, manufactured synthetic opiate--more potent than morphine—and a third who administered dermorphin, a powerful Class 1A painkiller.

Beyond the realm of politics in this charged atmosphere, showing mercy and clemency in this case would be just, fair, righteous; a truly Christian thing to do.

The petition itself was as unique as a 10-year revocation based of an overage for a legal therapeutic medication and the controversial discovery of vials containing another permissible drug in Dutrow’s desk draw in November, 2010.

In a recent, detailed report, Community, Law, Clemency Support Dutrow.docx, we offered a substantial list of prominent horsemen and media who support Dutrow’s reinstatement:

Steve Asmussen, Angel Cordero Jr., Jimmy Jerkens, Peter Miller, Jose and Irad Ortiz Jr., Todd Pletcher, Johnny Velazquez. The list goes on and on.

Industry titan and philanthropist William K. Warren Jr. is among Dutrow’s supporters, as is MLB executive Joe Torre, world-renown equine surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage, Stephen Barker and Thomas Tobin, both DVMs. Former NYRA steward, the late Dave Hicks loaned his support. All were character witnesses.

Successful owners surely recognize top horsemanship: Michael Dubb, Paul Pompa, Ken Ramsey, Mike Repole, Barry K. Schwartz, Samantha Siegel, and Roddy Valente. All are household names within the industry.

And media plays a role, too, among them Hall of Fame Jockey Jerry Bailey, Donna Brothers, Steven Crist, Barbara Livingston, Frank Lyons, Randy Moss and the entire HRI staff.

And finally come current and former racing officials: Jim Gallagher, Bernie Hettel, Bruce Johnstone, Lou Raffeto Jr. and Gerald Romski. All are in favor of reinstatement.

Significantly, Bennett Liebman, retired appointee of Gov. Cuomo to the post of Gaming Commission Deputy Secretary, is supporting reinstatement. Liebman recently returned to Albany Law School as Government Lawyer-in-Residence.

Dutrow’s racing bona fides are considerable. He has started more than 7,200 horses, winning with 25% of them, including a Breeders’ Cup Classic, Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Over 60% of his starters have been tested.

American Racing Commissioners International records dating back to 1976 show that Dutrow never has been found guilty of using a banned substance. The record shows three overages for two legal therapeutic meds.

Empirically, though, there is one statistic that has no known equivocation: No horse trained by Dutrow suffered a fatal breakdown at a New York track, either racing or in training, for 11 consecutive years.

But of all the endorsements Dutrow has received, one that comes from outside the sphere of racing, might be more meaningful than all the rest, supplying added context and badly needed closure:

From an email sent on letterhead to the New York Gaming Commission dated April 20, 2018:

“Dear Commissioners:

“I am writing to you on behalf of our organization HorseAbility. I do so to provide you with a brief background of Rick Dutrow’s work interacting with retired race horses and with individuals with special needs.

“As you may already know, Rick came to us in 2015. He did so, unsolicited, to help us better utilize our horse population in particular to our work with children.

“It was evident from the first visit that he truly has a special touch and a way with the horses. For our clients this turned out to be a wonderful adventure that led to real bonding with the animals.

“I understand that you are considering whether to let Rick return to his profession of training race horses in New York. For whatever it is worth, we here at HorseAbility wholeheartedly support his return.

“I can only say from our experience with him that he will be a great asset to the industry and a boost to the public perception that great horsemanship and love for the animal is what racing should be all about.

Katie McGowan, Horse Ability founder/executive director”

The New York Gaming Commission will soon conduct its monthly meeting. It is hoped that the Rick Dutrow case will be on the agenda and that the Commissioners will consider the will of thousands of industry stakeholders.

A training savant needs this panel to give this matter due consideration, please. To survive, a good man needs his work and a second chance.

Written by John Pricci

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