Winner's Circle: Cheaters Prosper at Calder Race Course

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"Just about every trainer has made an honest mistake with therapeutic medications," Paulick says. "But it just struck me as amazing for a horse trainer to have so many medication violations in such a short period of time."

When Ziadie's horse Not Acclaim won a race on April 19, 2007, but then tested positive for a tranquilizer, it seemed as if the state's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering would finally make an example of him. The agency fined him $1,000 — still only a fraction of the winnings — but suspended him for two months.

Ziadie appealed, though, and won a Tallahassee court injunction. His punishment wouldn't be confirmed for another couple of years, even after he admitted to giving the tranquilizer to his horses. Ziadie pleaded for leniency, arguing that his finances were "in chaos" but that he wasn't deliberately cheating.

As his case dragged over two years, more than a dozen Ziadie thoroughbreds failed drug tests. Cenzontle failed twice. Yet when Ziadie's luck finally did end, it was no thanks to state regulators.

In July 2009, the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering received three anonymous complaints. "He... come[s] late at nights when no one is there to give his 'vitamins,' " began a letter from someone who said he worked for the trainer. "He carries a black briefcase and sometimes he takes the needles out of it to inject the horses."

The letter continued, "If you get someone to search the car or truck, you will find the drugs there... That is the real stuff that he gives the horses to make them run faster or hide their pain so they could run on race days."

Another letter claimed, "I have known this young man since his teenage years and ever since then, he was filled with greed to win races." A third accused Ziadie of avoiding suspensions by racing his horses under other trainers' names.

One of Ziadie's employees began cooperating with Calder. The unnamed assistant gave the track's security manager, Steve Diamond, hypodermic syringes full of drugs that he claimed Ziadie had told him to inject into various horses shortly before their races.

"I hope I am not placed in danger and that my name is not revealed," the informant wrote, adding that Ziadie often killed barn pigeons with a shotgun. "[If] he finds out... he is crazy and capable of killing me or paying someone else to do it for him."

On August 20, 2009 — five years after Calder was first informed of the trainer's drug violations — Ziadie was finally banned from the track. Calder officials gave him 72 hours to remove his 50 horses.

Incredibly, state regulators closed their case against Ziadie a few months later when the informant abruptly disappeared. Even more outrageous: Despite 38 drug violations in less than five years, Ziadie never returned a cent of the more than $10 million his horses won. State law allows the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to reclaim winnings after tainted races, but the agency simply never asked. Instead, it fined Ziadie a total of $13,100 — less than the prize for a single race.

He was also banned from other tracks in Florida, including Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs. But other states weren't aware of Ziadie's record. It wasn't long before Laurel Park in Maryland gave him ten stalls. And Chicago horse owner Frank Calabrese hired him to train his thoroughbreds. Soon, Ziadie was back in Florida. Gulfstream agreed to give him a stall in February 2011. Then, last October, Calder granted the disgraced trainer five stalls and permission to race.

Calder officials defend their handling of Ziadie's violations. Marshall says the track took action to ban Ziadie before the state's two-month suspension, and denied numerous reinstatement requests from the trainer until they were satisfied he'd reformed.

"It's important to understand that legal medications are a part of racing," Marshall says. "Most of those violations on Kirk's rec­ord weren't for illegal drugs; they were for legal medications that exceeded state limits."

Ziadie is now back to his winning ways. Last fall he won 33 percent of his races, fifth-best among trainers who raced at least ten horses. So far this year, he has won 23 of his 68 races (34 percent), putting him on track to finish as one of Calder's top trainers.

His other habits have resurfaced too. His horses have already tested positive for high bute levels three times this year, including twice at Calder. Because state regulators recently lowered the allowed limit, however, they gave him a free pass. Other trainers at Calder are furious that the race course has allowed Ziadie to return. "After all those positives?" said one, who asked to remain anonymous. "It's unbelievable."

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Michael E. Miller