Horse racing is called the sport of kings, but there ain't much regal about its South Florida incarnation. Cheating and corruption are rampant at local spots like Calder Race Course. Apparently, this chicanery is now spreading beyond horse racing and seeping into coverage of the sport. Last Saturday, the Sun Sentinel published a lengthy article on how Florida regulations lag behind other states.
The only problem: New Times already wrote that exact story. Four months ago.
Compare the two articles, starting with the Sun Sentinel's supposed expose.
Florida's failure to curb the illicit drugging of horses threatens the animals' health and the integrity of results in the state's horse-racing industry, the Sun Sentinel has found.
Antiquated state laws, lenient penalties and a system that tolerates repeat offenders and sometimes leaves violators unpunished for years have caused Florida to fall behind in policing an industry that has come under pressure from U.S. congressional leaders to tighten rules on drugs and medications used on horses.
The article focuses on a particularly shady trainer named Kirk Ziadie. It also contains interviews with Richard Sams --former director of the UF laboratory that tests horse samples -- and Calder vice president John Marshall.
My own investigation, published four months prior, was the first to focus on Ziadie (with credit to sports journalist Ray Paulick for writing about Ziadie when he was first suspended for drug violations in 2009). I tracked down Sams to his new home in Kentucky, and also spoke to Marshall.
I also spent several weeks at Calder, learning about Ziadie and his return to the race track. I requested hundreds of pages of state records and spent two months putting together the story of how Ziadie sneaked into barns in the middle of the night to give his horses illicit cocktails of performance enhancing drugs. In the process, he made a small fortune for himself and horse owners.
My story, Dark Horse: Cheaters Prosper At Calder Race Course, concluded:
Larger blame also lies with the State of Florida, which has some of the laxest regulations in the country. With deliberately outdated testing techniques, fines that are a pittance compared to the prizes for winning dirty, and criminal charges completely unheard of, Florida practically encourages cheating at the track.
In other words, the two investigations are extremely similar, with New Times' clearly paving the way. Yet the Sun Sentinel didn't mention my reporting. When we sent an email to reporter Amy Shipley and her editor, Dana Banker, and eventually got a terse reply from Banker:
Amy Shipley's reporting on this story was 100 percent independent. We stand behind her and this article completely.
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To be fair, Shipley did get her hands on some interesting big picture statistics. For instance, the Sun Sentinel found that Florida reported more positive tests than any other state for half of the 32 drugs banned in horse racing.
As for Calder, its season ended on Friday. Unsurprisingly, Ziadie finished as one of the track's top trainers yet again. Among those whose horses started at least 50 races, he had the best win rate -- an impressive 31 percent -- with 16 wins, 32 money finishes, and $245,024 earnings.
Overall, his horses won $750,409 at various tracks last year. Not bad for a guy whose horses have failed drug tests nearly 50 times.