The natural habitat of Thoroughbred racing isn’t the Twilight ZoneÑbut sometimes it certainly seems that way.

Case on point: Within the span of a few days last week, Rick Dutrow Jr. was named the leading trainer during the spring/summer meeting at Belmont Park and a New York appellate court upheld a 10-year suspension handed to Dutrow last October by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board (NYSRWB). If this juxtaposition of events has your head spinning, you’re not alone. Saddling 27 winners doesn’t sound very much like a suspension, at least not the way the term is usually understood.

You can almost hear the eerie music and Rod Serling’s sonorous voice introducing an episode titled The Last Days of a Jockey: “Rounding the far turn and coming up fast on the railÑis the Twilight Zone.”

Despite the apparent contradiction, it’s altogether proper and above board for a trainer to benefit from an advantage provided by the law.

Dutrow, a beleaguered trainer who won the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with Big Brown, has a history of medication violations. What triggered the current suspension, according to court records, was a search in November 2010 that turned up three unlabeled hypodermic needles in Dutrow’s desk at Aqueduct Racetrack. Around the same time, a Dutrow-trained horse tested positive for a prohibited medication. Based on the pair of violations, the trainer’s license was suspended for 90 days. Dutrow appealed the suspension, an option guaranteed by the rules of racing, and he was allowed to continue training while the legal wrangling proceeded.<