On January 16, trainer Rick Dutrow began the seventh year of an unprecedented 10-year license revocation, the result of a therapeutic drug overage and hypodermic syringes that were allegedly found inside his Aqueduct barn office.
According to a letter submitted to the New York State Gaming Commission by retired State Steward Steven Lewandowski dated NOV 24, 2019, Dutrow was found guilty based on “planted evidence” by state investigator Joel Leveson.
Lewandowski’s letter also was sent to the Queens District Attorney’s Office and two members of the New York Racing Association Board of Directors.
On January 9, the Queens DA’s Office re-opened its investigation. “A crime was committed at Aqueduct Racetrack and a man’s life and livelihood was taken from him,” said Dutrow attorney, Karen Murphy ESQ.
Murphy recently submitted a fourth application to the Gaming Commission. At this point, the Gaming Commission has yet to acknowledge receipt of those applications.
“When discussing Mr. Dutrow’s case during my time as the State Steward,” Lewandowski wrote in a letter to the NYSGC, “Mr. Braulio Baeza Jr., the NYRA Steward at the time… told me on numerous occasions that evidence against Mr. Dutrow was planted…
”NYRA was also involved in the search of Mr. Dutrow’s barn,” the letter goes on to state. “At no time [during my tenure] has any member of the Commission asked me for any background… I have detailed knowledge of this case as I was the Alternate State Steward at the time…”
Now retired, veteran NYRA investigator John MacDonnell later testified that Leveson lied as to MacDonnell’s instigating the investigation, and if [an investigator] were to find incriminating evidence, that “you tear the place apart, not leave the barn after 10 minutes.”
Lewandowski continued: “I state emphatically that his penalties for which he received ten years and a $50,000 fine do not equal the infractions that occurred. It was obvious, and still is, that this was a personal issue against Mr. Dutrow which did not merit the punishment he received.”
This issue comes at a time when the sport is facing serious challenges for myriad reasons, precipitated by a spate of catastrophic equine injuries at the 2018-2019 Santa Anita winter meet, which carried over to the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic in which Mongolian Groom suffered a fatal injury.
Not long after last season’s Santa Anita meet ended, Dr. Larry Bramlage, whose Rood & Riddle Equine facility is the official equine hospital and veterinary pharmacy of the Breeders’ Cup, wrote a letter to relevant parties on May 28, 2019:
“This is a reaffirmation of my remarks of several years ago during Rick Dutrow’s violation hearing,” stated Bramlage, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading equine surgeons.
“I still hold his record with us as a consulting and treating veterinary resource for his stable in high regard. To have trained as many horses at a high level for as long as he trained them and not have a single fatal injury on your record is a phenomenal testament to the care he gave his horses.”
During Santa Anita’s first full meeting in 2019, from winter through spring, there were a total of 37 equine fatalities. Prior Dutrow’s license revocation, his horses, numbering in the thousands, suffered no fatal injuries racing or training at any NYRA track for 11 consecutive years, confirmed by NYRA’s attending veterinarian when HRI’s investigative series first appeared in 2015.
“When we worked for him,” the Bramlage letter continued, “the horses were sent to us early in the course of their diseases before permanent damage had ensued… Not all trainers are as astute or as attentive to their horses’ issues as Rick Dutrow.
“His early intervention and willingness to treat at the highest level was truly noteworthy… When I laid out treatment recommendations his consistent response was always ‘we want to do this the best way’. He never requested any treatment options that were aimed at continued performance when it was against the best interest of the horse.
“Costs of treatment or disruption of planned schedules were never an issue. We consistently did it the ‘best way’. I think [the revocation] has made a point and I would support modification of the rest of his sentence.”
In summation, Lewandowski wrote: “There have been numerous trainers caught and prosecuted with drugs and/or syringes on the racetrack. The last trainer I am aware of was given a thousand dollar fine…
“There is a licensed trainer [and New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Board member] accused of purchasing inside information into entries. At least three racing officials from NYRA have lost their job and no action [was] taken against this individual [at that time].
“…When you use your authority against a licensee to this extent, it’s a gross miscarriage of justice to him and the racing industry as a whole. In this case, every individual involved with the decision to keep Mr. Dutrow out of racing is complicit…
“This miscarriage of justice has been abhorrent and should be corrected as soon as possible. I’m imploring you to mark his case as time served and allow Mr. Dutrow the ability to make a living in horse racing.
“Once again, I am available to answer any questions you might have.”
As was the case with attorney Murphy’s applications, nearly three months have passed since Lewandowski’s letter was sent. And, like Murphy, the retired Steward received no confirmation of receipt, never mind a response.
A state official has come forward with first-account information of wrongdoing and injustice. So what is New York State and the New York Racing Association hiding?
A man’s ability to make a living has been stolen, the result of a crime perpetrated against him.
In all this time, how could there not have been an investigation into this matter? Given evidentiary findings and first-hand testimony, seven years passed without an investigation. Why?