The red-hot team of Frank Carl Calabrese and Kirk Ziadie won the owner and trainer titles, respectively, at the Calder Casino & Race Course meet that ended Aug. 31. But they're also making noise at neighboring Gulfstream Park.
Calabrese led owners with 39 wins in 94 starts at the 76-day Calder meet that began April 6 at the South Florida track. It was Calabrese's fourth straight title at Calder; he led owners in wins at the 2011 and 2012 Tropical at Calder meets and the 2012 Calder meet.
The often-controversial Ziadie began training for Calabrese in 2011 and has been his exclusive trainer for several months. He led the Calder meet with 32 wins from 76 starts, primarily with horses owned by Calabrese. Antonio Sano finished second with 26 wins, followed by Kathleen O'Connell with 20.
Calabrese finished second in purses earned with $511,823, while Ziadie was fifth among trainers with $444,092 in earnings. A large percentage of their victories came in claiming races.
Calabrese said Aug. 31 he expects that he and Ziadie will have strong showings at the Tropical-at-Calder meet that began Sept. 1. That meet is scheduled for Fridays through Sundays until Dec. 29.
Gulfstream and Calder began racing head-to-head on Saturdays and Sundays July 6 and are scheduled to do so through June 30, 2014.
On many of the overlap days, Ziadie, several other trainers, and some of Florida's top year-round jockeys start the afternoon with races at one track and then drive eight miles to finish the day at the other. The concurrent meets are creating abundant opportunities for Calabrese, who has about 50 horses stabled at Gulfstream.
He also has broodmares and horses in training at Shanbally Acres in Ocala., Fla. Calabrese said Richard "Red" Curtin, whose family owns Shanbally, is his main adviser on buying horses at sales and from claiming races.
Calabrese's horses are winning at a phenomenal rate at Gulfstream's meet. Through Sept. 1, his runners have won 14 of 34 starts. Calabrese horses also have 10 second-place finishes and six third-place finishes. Ziadie has 33 starts and the same number of top-three finishes as Calabrese.
Many of the Calabrese-Ziadie horses have gone off at even-money or lower in fields of six or fewer horses. Some trainers are staying away from claiming races in which a Calabrese horse looks like a sure thing.
Calabrese, an 84-year-old native of the Chicago area who sold his printing business in 2004 for what he calls "a very good profit," has owned racehorses since the late 1980s. He has won about 20 owners' titles at tracks including Arlington Park and Calder.
Calabrese moved all of his horses to Calder in 2012 following disputes with Arlington management over issues that included allocation of stalls.
He is among several dozen horsemen who shifted their stables from Calder to Gulfstream amid the tracks' dispute over racing dates. Their failure to reach agreement led to head-to-head racing.
On a recent race day at Gulfstream, Calabrese said he is not surprised by his success this summer at the two Miami-area tracks.
"We have horses suited for these meets," he said. "I have the best trainer I've ever had in Kirk Ziadie. I've never met a trainer who works harder than Kirk."
Calabrese said he is not concerned about Ziadie's history of medication-related controversies.
"I've seen cases where trainers had things that were worse than with Kirk," Calabrese said. "Some of the things with him were miniscule."
Calabrese is known to place heavy demands on trainers and other employees. Thus far, that has been fine with Ziadie, whose determination to win is on the same level with his boss.
"Frank gets the horses, and he lets me take the wheel," Ziadie said. "He has let me hire a good staff, and I appreciate that. Frank understands that some horses develop more slowly than others, and that some need more time between races."
Ziadie led trainers in wins during the 2006 and 2007 Tropical meets, and the 2007 and 2008 Calder meets. In 2009 he appealed a series of Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering suspensions and fines for medication violations. Calder that August barred him from its property that September for reasons it did not specify.
Ziadie trained at tracks in Pennsylvania and Maryland before he returned to Florida in 2011 at Gulfstream. Calder reinstated him in September 2011. Calder officials then said they told him to leave in 2009 because of medication issues and late payments to vendors.
In February 2013 the Florida DPMW filed an administrative complaint against Ziadie regarding six positive race-day medication tests on five horses at Calder in 2012. Four of the horses cited were owned by Calabrese, who is not a defendant in the complaint and is not mentioned in it.
The Florida DPMW complaint also listed a series of 14 previous medication fines paid by Ziadie, ranging from $100 to $1,000. It is seeking to revoke his license, suspend him, or fine him up to $5,000 for each of the six alleged violations in 2012. No hearing date has been set.
Ziadie declined comment on the Florida DPMW complaint.
Ziadie trains all but several of Calabrese's horses, and Luis Ramirez trains the others. Ramirez was an assistant to Nick Canani, who trained for Calabrese in Illinois and Florida during part of 2011 and 2012 before Calabrese dismissed him.
Calabrese is outspoken and colorful with an energy level many people in their 60s would envy. He is a self-described "character" and a man who always seems to have time to talk with fans at the track.
He usually wears a T-shirt, shorts, and a pair of dock shoes at the track. At Gulfstream he generally hangs in the Silks simulcast area on the ground floor.
"I could be up on the third floor with the other owners in Christine Lee's (restaurant)," Calabrese said. "But I'd rather be down here with the real people."
Calabrese sits in the same carrel seat, naturally one of the best in the house, almost every race day and simulcast day. It is a very convenient location-–with the Gulfstream winner's circle about 100 feet from the door.