American horse racing has recently been rocked by allegations of widespread doping and cheating. The New York Times revealed the sport's deadly toll on jockeys and thoroughbreds. A horse in contention for the Triple Crown was scratched after scrutiny of its trainer's controversial record. And U.S. Senator Tom Udall called for reform citing "an alarming level of corruption and exploitation."
Now a two-month investigation by New Times shows how cheating occurs at Calder Race Course -- Florida's biggest, most lucrative track -- including one trainer who is still racing and winning despite 41 horse doping violations.
Here are some of the highlights of our investigation:
- Kirk Ziadie, a trainer with one of the state's best win percentages, has guided his horses to 553 victories worth nearly $11 million in purses in his 10-year career. But those same horses have failed state-administered drug tests 41 times. All but three of those violations came within a five-year period from 2004-9.
- Among the drugs his horses tested positive for were powerful painkillers (which can be used to mask dangerous injuries), tranquilizers (which, in low doses, act as stimulants), and steroids.
- Despite his repeated violations, Ziadie was only fined a total of $13,100 -- less than the prize for a single race -- and was never asked by state officials to return any of his winnings.
- When Florida's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering finally tried to suspend Ziadie for two months, he appealed the case for another two years.
- Ziadie ultimately banned from Calder Race Course, but only because one of his own employees provided racetrack officials with syringes full of mysterious chemicals.
- Repeated drug violations like Ziadie's are only possible because Florida politicians wrote weaker testing methods into state law.
Calder officials deny that there is a widespread problem, telling New Times that the track is "an industry leader for racetrack safety."
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Ziadie, meanwhile, gave New Times conflicting explanations for his bad record. At first he denied it, then he said it was just "carelessness," before finally blaming "haters" for attacking his success.
"Look at Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant," he said. "Any time you do anything in life and you are successful, they are always going to try to bring you down."
Our investigation also delves into a $5 million fraud at Calder as well as allegations of drug use and race fixing at the track. Read it here.