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In the predawn hours of late summer 2007, in the recesses of Calder Race Course, a groom opened stall number eight. Greenwood Mystery, a sweet-faced brown bay horse, stood motionless and terrified.
His halter and leash were bound so tightly to the wall that one move could have snapped his neck.
Soon word got to trainer Jean Friedberg, an 88-year-old éminence grise of the horse world and former member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. It wasn't an accident, Friedberg thought. "It's how you kill a horse if you're meaner than hell," he says.
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According to the owner, an outspoken, fluffy-haired breeder named Gina Silvestri, the binding of the horse was part of a plot by Calder higherups to get her tossed out. She believes track employees removed cameras and then tied up Greenwood Mystery to show she treated her animal badly. (The effort failed. The horse was fine.)
In June 2008, 10 months after the incident, Calder president Ken Dunn kicked her off the grounds. He claimed she wasn't racing enough horses.
But she contends she was booted because she filed a lawsuit against the Florida Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association, a horseracing oversight committee with ties to Dunn.
This week, she and Friedberg plan to file suit against Calder, which is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., seeking compensation for loss of livelihood. "They harassed me to death, and I have it documented," Silvestri says. "They should pay me for the nine months I've been banished. They've got a monopoly out there."
The lawsuit promises to produce lots about the ugly backstage dealings at Miami-Dade's premier horse venue. Silvestri has long been a maverick at the track, complaining when she sees injustice. For instance, she once protested to the Miami Herald after Dunn suspended a fellow owner for feeding stray cats.
Dunn couldn't be reached for comment. Regarding Silvestri's banishment, Calder media spokesperson Michele Blanco would only say, "It's not public housing. We have a finite amount of space and people clamoring to get in."