Winner's Circle: Cheaters Prosper at Calder Race Course

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"For big races with lots of money in them, the officials actually set up the race ahead of time," claims Gabriel Myatt, a former jockey and security guard at Calder. "They pick the horses, then they set up the odds and tell the jockeys: 'You are fourth, you are fifth,' and so on. If you're a jockey and you listen, you might make some extra money. If you don't listen to them, you don't get paid and you get blackballed."

Marshall says he's never heard an official complaint from Myatt, who worked at the track from April 2006 to May 2007. "We take these kinds of allegations very, very seriously," he says.

Fisher also claims that his complaints led to mysterious retaliation. In 2005, his horses at Calder began to go crazy. After finding them banging their heads against the wall or scratching their hooves raw, he suspected they were being drugged. He once found filly urine spread in his barn to make his male horses go wild, he says. Another time, he arrived early in the morning to find Majestic JCE — one of his most prized horses — with fractured legs after escaping from his stall the night before. He had to put the stallion down.

In December 2005, Fisher went to the FBI. He told agent Cynthia Levinson that Calder officials were fixing races, allowing drug use, and securing false social security numbers for undocumented immigrants to work at the track. (Miami-based FBI spokesman Mike Leverock declined to comment about Fisher's claims.)

Days later, Fisher met with Calder officials. He claims they demanded he drop his complaints. Fisher refused and was banned from the course. He sued several months later.

Calder conspired to defame Fisher because of his knowledge of foul play, corruption, and race fixing, he claimed in his suit. Track officials then "banished" him as "retaliation for speaking out." The case remains open.

Marshall declined to talk about Fisher's accusations. "He hasn't presented these complaints directly to me or come to me with these allegations," he says.

Fisher's close friend Rene Wagner, another South African trainer, has also battled track officials. When Fisher was ruled off, Wagner trained both of their horses. Like Fisher, she soon began to suspect that jockeys, horse owners, and Calder officials were conspiring to rig races.

In a complaint to the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering filed in April 2010, Wagner accused horse owner Allen Bruce Gottlieb of instructing jockey Carlos Camilo to zap horse Raisinaboveonly with a battery, or electric buzzer, hidden in his hand. The horse went wild and finished last. Wagner's complaint set off a bitter feud. Gottlieb sued her, calling Wagner and Fisher "scam artists." But Wagner won in court, claiming Gottlieb conspired with Calder officials to have her blacklisted. (Gottlieb declined to comment.) Wagner is now planning her own lawsuit against Calder.

The second suit comes from horse breeder Gina Silvestri. In 2006, she had more than a dozen stalls at Calder. When another owner died in November, she agreed to take on a horse named Greenwood Mystery. Silvestri's trouble began six months later, when someone else claimed ownership of the animal.

Sure enough, when Silvestri checked the horse's papers, she says she discovered the transfer had been signed in December — not by the dead owner, but by Calder racing secretary Michael Anifantis. When Silvestri and 15 witnesses turned up at a hearing to determine how a corpse could have given Silvestri a horse, the event was abruptly canceled. Steward Jeffrey Noe refused to take depositions. Three more hearings were scheduled and then canceled. In January 2008, Silvestri was banned from Calder for life. She sued the track in Broward County Court and sold all of her horses to pay nearly a half-million dollars in legal bills.

"Everybody is scared to death of Churchill Downs," she says. "But it's not fair that people are treated like this."

In court, the track's attorneys have sought to discredit Fisher, Wagner, and Silvestri. But some of the trio's allegations are supported by police reports and state regulators' investigations.

Fisher and Wagner's claim that Calder is awash in drugs is corroborated by repeated narcotics arrests at the racetrack. On July 12, 2009, for instance, a groom was arrested for selling cocaine and marijuana out of his room on the backside of Calder. Two months later, another horse handler was busted for selling and smoking crack. A year later, another dealer was caught with ten grams of pot and a digital scale. At least six arrests related to drugs have been made in the past five years.

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Michael E. Miller