Ziadie trusting to `Luck' for ride to Louisville

Veteran trainer's colt tests `Empire' in Florida

Horse Racing

March 14, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

HALLANDALE, Fla. - When Ralph Ziadie immigrated to the United States in 1977 from his native Jamaica, he and his wife opened a restaurant in South Florida, a Jewish deli of all things.

They did OK, sold it, and then Ziadie took a job selling Dodges. He was promptly promoted to general manager and then transferred to Miami to run a dealership.

"That was a little too close to Calder," Ziadie said, referring to Calder Race Course near Miami. "I'd sneak over to Calder, and that was all it took. It's in my blood. I had to get back to it."

"It" was training horses, which Ziadie had done in Jamaica. Now 64, he became a licensed trainer when he was 18. His grandfather had trained, bred and owned thoroughbreds in Jamaica. Four uncles had also trained them there.

Since 1979, Ziadie has labored successfully in South Florida, obscured from the rest of the country except for those devoted fans who came to admire his work with Sir Bear. The gelding retired in January at 10 after 71 races and 19 wins, three in Grade I stakes.

Ziadie sampled scraps at the Triple Crown table in 2000 when he saddled Tahkodha Hills in the Belmont. He finished ninth at odds of 48-1. Ziadie, a stout man with a ready smile, has never partaken of the Kentucky Derby feast.

"When I started training horses in this country, my goal was to go to the Kentucky Derby," Ziadie said. "But I always said I'd never go unless I had a horse I thought could win it."

Trust N Luck, he believes, can win it. All the speedy colt has to do is emerge healthy and sound from the Florida Derby tomorrow at Gulfstream Park. And then, win, lose or draw, Ziadie said, he and his horse are headed to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May.

"If he gets beat, it's horse racing," Ziadie said about tomorrow's race. "But I'll tell you what, they're going to have to run to beat him."

Trust N Luck will vie for favoritism with Empire Maker, the impeccably bred, regal colt trained and ridden, respectively, by Hall of Famers Bobby Frankel and Jerry Bailey. Trust N Luck is far more experienced, having raced nine times (winning five) compared to Empire Maker's three races (one win).

Empire Maker's appeal is his potential; Trust N Luck's is his record. He earned his way into the Florida Derby with an overpowering, 5 1/4 -length victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes here at Gulfstream four weeks ago. He closed out last year with an 11-length romp in the What A Pleasure Stakes at Calder.

Ziadie picked out Trust N Luck earlier last year at a sale of 2-year-olds in Ocala, Fla. He had a budget of $200,000, ostensibly to buy three or four prospects for his owner, Einar P. Robsham. But Ziadie plunked it all down on Trust N Luck.

"I fell in love with this horse," he said.

Eleven years ago, Ziadie attended the same sale. He had no wealthy owner and a handful of horses in his barn. He fell in love with a horse then, too, but he couldn't begin to afford him. The horse was Montbrook, who became an accomplished sprinter and later a popular stallion in Florida. Trust N Luck is a son of Montbrook.

"He was one of the best-looking horses I'd ever seen," Ziadie said of Montbrook. "Except that Trust N Luck is a chestnut and Montbrook a dark bay, they look exactly alike. Thank God I've got one of his sons."

He almost didn't. After he bid $200,000, as high as he could go, the auctioneer delayed banging the gavel while eagerly soliciting more bids. Ziadie couldn't figure out what was going on.

Later, he learned that someone had been bidding by telephone. The line had gone dead just as Ziadie bid $200,000. The auctioneer's representatives had been trying frantically to get the bidder back on the line. They never did, and Ziadie got Trust N Luck.

"He was like a little child," Ziadie said, "doing silly things all the time. That's why we ran him eight times as a 2-year-old to get him to mature."

His most child-like outburst occurred at the start of a race last August, his fourth, when he drew the 1 post in a Florida-bred stakes at Calder. Breaking from the rail at odds of 4-5, Trust N Luck exited the starting gate and turned left. His jockey flew off. Trust N Luck was promptly caught by an outrider and emerged unscathed.

The colt hasn't drawn the 1 post again - until now. He'll break from the rail in the Florida Derby, but Ziadie said he isn't worried.

After this, Ziadie said he won't race Trust N Luck again until the Kentucky Derby. History says that isn't a good idea, but Ziadie doesn't care. He says he learned in Jamaica, where racing took place at carnivals, not extended race meets, how to train a horse up to a race.

And anyway, he says, he tried the "prep route" once. Ziadie prepped a horse named Royal Crest three weeks before the 1971 Jamaica Derby. Royal Crest came out of the race with a chip in his knee.

Ziadie didn't take the horse back to the racetrack the entire three weeks. He took him to the beach for his conditioning. Uttering words that no American trainer has probably ever said, and no other trainer probably ever will, Ziadie said: "He swam into the Derby."

And Royal Crest won.

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