Rick Dutrow Jr. has been conspicuous by his absence at Saratoga Race Course this season; his brother, Tony, has been conspicuous by his presence.
Rick has been camped out at Aqueduct as Big Brown works toward his next start, the newly created Monmouth Stakes on the turf on Sept. 13.
Tony, meanwhile, has been having a
quietly spectacular meet with a record of 8-4-5 from 23 starters. He won’t win the training title, and, in fact, trails his brother in victories by two, but he has by far the best winning and in-the-money percentages among trainers with at least 20 starts.
He plans to run two, Premium Wine and Ferocious Fires, against his brother’s sprint monster, Benny the Bull, and the rising star Lucky Island in the Grade I seven-furlong Forego on Saturday.
The theme music from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” will not be necessary, though, because Tony Dutrow isn’t looking at the race as a showdown against his brother.
“There’s no competition between Ricky and I, but when we race against each other, Ricky wants his horse to win and I want my horse to win, but there’s no rivalry,” he said. “There’s nothing there, anything like that. None of that. Ricky’s not fun to race against. When you see the overnight and you see some of the obvious names, you’re not excited about that. But then again, I’m sure people don’t like my name on the overnight, too. We get our share, too.”
At 50, Tony Dutrow is the oldest of the three sons of the late Dick Dutrow, a well-known trainer on the Maryland circuit. Rick is 49, and the youngest, Chip, works as Tony’s assistant.
Tony had a flurry of four victories in six days from Aug. 10-15, including the second win of the meet for Ferocious Fires and an allowance optional claiming score by Premium Wine. Both horses are New York-breds, and will be coming back in less than three weeks by racing in the Forego.
Rick Dutrow has been known to race horses back quickly, but this is new territory for Tony.
“If you talk to any intelligent horse trainer, besides my brother Ricky, they’ll tell you that they’re worried about everything,” he said. “So I don’t know what 17 days will do. I don’t know. I’ll be a spectator and watch like everyone else.”
Premium Wine was third to Lucky
Island in the Tom Fool, finished up the track against Divine Park in the Met Mile and lost two straight to Bustin Stones.
Besides a win in the $80,000 Troy stakes, which was taken off the turf on Aug. 11, Ferocious Fires won the 61⁄2-furlong John Morrissey against state-breds on July 31. The son of speedball Lite the Fuse has won eight of nine career starts.
“Ferocious Fires likes Saratoga,” Dutrow said. “He was and is in excellent shape. We got a couple of races that were ideal. One of them came off the turf. He’s a nice kind of horse himself. He’s never been beaten on the dirt, so that speaks for his quality.
“We plan on racing him in the Forego. It’s a big step up for him. Hey, it’s Saratoga, you know? Fifteen-to-1 shots win up here. My horse is good, he’s doing good, he’s a capable horse. It wouldn’t be such a big surprise if he ran well in the Forego. But I’m totally aware of the competition, and respectfully so.”
After finishing fourth to Midnight Lute in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last year, Benny the Bull has won five straight, including the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen.
Tony Dutrow saddled Suave Jazz against Benny the Bull in the Grade II True North, and finished sixth of seven.
Lucky Island has won four straight, including the Grade II seven-furlong Tom Fool.
“Benny the Bull is an awfully good horse, so I’m excited about being in a big race at Saratoga, but Benny the Bull looms over the situation and keeps you in reality,” Dutrow said.
“He’s [Lucky Island] some kind of horse, as well. A very good horse.”
Dutrow’s other winners were Abby Morgan, Redefined, Sorority Sister, Hawkgood and Fancy Diamond.
His winning percentage is 34.8, which is slightly better than the percentage of winning favorites through five weeks, and his horses have finished in the money 73.9 percent of the time.
“I approach Saratoga like I’ll send the horses up here that fit, and hope for the best,” he said. “And that’s what we did. The races were there, our horses were good, we ran, and they’ve run well. But I approach Saratoga no differently than any other race meet. The race is offered, you try and run a healthy horse that’s doing well and hope you do good. We had more wins than seconds, which is unusual for all horsemen. So yeah, we’re very, very happy with the horses’ performances up here.”
As Big Brown became the most talked-about horse in training, even moreso than Horse of the Year Curlin, Rick Dutrow was placed in the vortex of a media storm that only intensified when Dutrow came out with some bombastic comments, including “We’re way better than Curlin.”
Tony Dutrow, who bounces between New York, Delaware Park and Maryland, doesn’t get a fraction of the media attention that his brother, who also trains Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Kip Deville, gets.
“The good side of it is, obviously, they’re [media] there because you’ve got good stuff, so that’s a great thing,” Tony Dutrow said. “And the down side is, you have to deal with it, and that takes your time, and it’s got to be, to some point, a bit of a distraction
Unless, of course, you’re Bobby Frankel, and you’ve dealt with it for 35 years and you know how to.
“Ricky has not done a great job with the media this year, I guess,” Tony Dutrow said. “I don’t know why he had to say some of the things he said, because they’re not good for him or for anybody else or the industry. And I don’t know why he said them. Maybe they came out and he regrets it. I don’t know. I have not talked to him about it. He’s almost 50 years old. He’s a big boy. He’s doing what he does.”
Besides the now infamous Curlin comment, Rick Dutrow stirred controversy for criticizing the connections of Smarty Jones, who, like Big Brown, lost the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.
Some in the media have applauded the candor, but Tony Dutrow was saddened and disappointed by the negativity and arrogance of his brother.
“A lot of that was great,” Tony Dutrow said. “A lot of that was really, really good, that Ricky did come out and express himself more than the generic route that all of us go. But some of the things, like when you say what’s the big deal about Curlin, a filly beat him . . . I mean, why would you say that about a great horse? That’s somebody’s horse. Why would you say that about someone else’s horse? And he said poor John Servis lost the Triple Crown because they let their horse win too far in the Preakness. Why would you say something like that? That’s not any good for anybody.
“But, yeah, a lot of the stuff, he gave a lot more detail than other people would. A lot of it was good. It was good reading. But, big picture, Ricky didn’t do himself any favors.”
After saddling Suave Jazz in the True North, Tony Dutrow stuck around to watch Big Brown’s disaster in the Belmont.
He still hasn’t discussed it with his brother, and won’t pick a theory out of the dozens of excuses that have arisen.
“To this day, I have not asked Ricky a word about that. Because I saw what happened,” he said. “I don’t know any of it. All I know is that the whole deal was no good, and that’s as far as I look into the situation. No good. No good.”
Rick Dutrow is such a fan of his horse, Benny the Bull, that it’s hard to believe that he won’t be in Saratoga for the Forego on Saturday.
He was so anxious about Big Brown’s Belmont that he said the day before the race that he might not even saddle Benny the Bull in the True North on the undercard.
There he was, though, the picture of jubilation in the winner’s circle; a few hours later, after Big Brown was pulled up by Kent Desormeaux in the Belmont, he was the picture of dejection.
The friendly, unassuming Tony Dutrow rarely finds himself in the spotlight like that. He isn’t looking forward to squaring off with the likes of Benny the Bull and Lucky Island, but his horses are doing well, and he believes they deserve a shot.
“If they continue to do well, when this weekend comes, then I’m running,” he said. “And hoping for the best. If something good happens or something bad happens, I’ll be the same guy the next day.”