Left: 2006 champion trainer at Calder Race Course, Kirk Ziadie ... 'We were dogging it out to the end'. - Photo courtesy of Calder Race Course Right:Ralph Ziadie
Gordon Williams, Contributor
Bloodline. It's more significant than any other connection in thoroughbred racing. In the Sport of Kings, it separates champions from nags.
Yet, these days, blood ties that should bind are a bit frayed with the Ziadies, a family of strong Jamaican roots which claims some of the most illustrious names in local racing - Tewfik,Millard and Victor - and has produced champions at home and abroad.
It has also spawned a father-son relationship which questions whether blood is always thicker than water. In the case of Ralph and Kirk Ziadie, both highly successful horse trainers in the United States, it's closer to oil on water. They simply don't mix.
Kirk Ziadie admits he hasn't really spoken to his father in a while both live in Florida and run horses at the same tracks.
When Kirk won his first trainer's title at the 'Tropical at Calder' meet in Miami early last month, to duplicate a feat Ralph had accomplished, he hoped to hear from his dad. Instead, kudos came from his arch-rival William P. White, whose determined challenge he staved off on the meet's final day.
"Not my dad," the son said. "My dad never called."
It has been that way for a while. Kirk claimed the last time he came close to patching the rift was when he shook his father's hand after Ralph won a stakes race a few months ago at Calder. Along with that gesture, he said, Ralph, who won the 1970 Jamaica Derby with Royal Crest and once took three straight trainer's titles at Calder, gave him a bonus nod of acknowledgement. Nothing more. Yet his father offered a different version.
"I have no problem with my son," Ralph said last month.
Kirk is defiant. Words like 'enemies' pop up in discussions about some family members. While the elder Ziadie declined to publicly discuss specifics of the feud, calling it a "family matter," Kirk openly offered suggestions.
"He feels threatened when I win races," the son explained.
Still, Kirk is not completely sure why the crack between him and Ralph, now close to 70, had widened into a gaping gorge that has consumed even his mother Terry.
"She does go along with what he (dad) says," Kirk explained. "She doesn't talk to me either."
Ralph Ziadie claims he always says hello to his son "when I see him". However, he confirmed there is no contact between Kirk and Terry.
"His mother doesn't speak to him," Ralph said.
Kirk admitted that his past behaviour would make many parents shudder. Now 38, he talks about moving with his family to the U.S. as a nine-year-old, but soon after losing his way. He dropped out of a Miami school at 14 and was quickly heading down the wrong path.
"I was a delinquent," Kirk said.
Ralph said he left Jamaica in 1977 because of problems with crime and politics in the country. Corruption in thoroughbred racing was also getting out of control.
"I would not be a part of that," Ralph explained.
He wouldn't approve his son's wayward behaviour either. Like most foreigners, Ralph had to work hard to break into U.S. racing after a successful career at Caymanas Park. He has been successfully settled at Calder for well over 20 years.
But according to Kirk, who now stables about 25 per cent of his horses at the same track, Ralph never banked on him as a winner. Instead, like he would an untamed colt, the son said his father tried to rein him in, ordering him to become productive.
"At first (dad) said I would not stay home and do nothing," Kirk recalled.
The teenager, faced with slim career choices, followed his father into a profession that would prove, almost immediately, a natural fit.
"I always seemed to love the horses," said Kirk, whose siblings Gordon and Katherine are not as involved in the sport. "I was getting into a lot of trouble, so I went to the track."
Kirk started out walking horses. He became a groom and worked horses "on the side", he said, while still employed by his father. By 2003 he was a licensed trainer.
Like the old block, the chip has harnessed the game.
"He is very good," said Ralph, the hint of pride in his voice hard to ignore. "He is one of the best trainers around."
Kirk's first winner was Scottish Bubbly, which he claimed for US$10,000. After the filly won five straight races at Calder, he sold her. The $75,000 return was exactly the financial boost - or "money in the bank for me to make it on my own," as Kirk called it - the son needed to escape his father's shadow. Dad, he claimed, was not amused.
"(My father) never encouraged me to go on my own," he said, "but I had different ideas."
Again, Ralph contradicts his son.
"I was the one that told him to go out on his own," he explained. "So I'm not sure how he could tell you that."
As horse owners began to show more confidence in Kirk, his success surged. His string of horses increased from the six he started with in 2003 at Calder. But success did not repair the broken family bond Kirk did not plan it that way.
"Oh yeah," he said when asked if he would like a relationship with his father. "I would love one."
Ralph, too, wants to mend fences.
"I would love to," he admitted, before exposing a stubborn streak apparent in his son as well. "It's for him to get on the phone and call us."
The strained family relationship has taken a heavy toll.
"It's been hard for me," Kirk said.
Yet, he struggles to understand how the man who saddled numerous stakes winners at tracks across the U.S., including the formidable Sir Bear, Silk Concorde, Trust N Luck, Valid Forbes and Tahkodha Hills, and conditioned Reggae Man to a track record seven straight wins at Calder in 1985, could deny his own blood future glory.
"(Dad) always wanted all for himself," he reasoned.
Now Kirk finds support elsewhere. He has developed a strong link with Jermaine Bridgmohan, an 18-year-old Jamaican apprentice who has taken the U.S. by storm after riding for just over six months. Bridgmohan won the jockey's title at 'Tropical' landing some of Kirk's charges. The teenaged apprentice credits the young trainer with offering him the opportunity to shine when others refused.
Kirk, meanwhile, admitted his ties to the Bridgmohans "is like a family thing, more than a rider/trainer relationship".
They cooked Jamaican food - soup with dumplings - for him when he was ill recently. But he stopped just short of claiming the Bridgmohan clanas his own.
"I don't have any family," he added with a tinge of regret. "My mom doesn't talk to me, my dad doesn't talk to me."
So Kirk Ziadie is saddled to his work. Yet, he wouldn't mind getting to know his mom and dad again.
There is a sense they want the same thing. Ralph Ziadie, the ageing master, at least appears ready to patch the bloodline ties that bind in his world.
"I would never turn my back on my son," he said.
The son, too, is feeling remorse.
"I wish," he said of the broken bond, "it wouldn't be like this."
Gordon Williams is a Jamaican journalist based in the United States.
JIM MORRISON MEMORIAL CUP PRESENTATION: Overseas based Jamaican trainer Ralph Ziadie (2nd left), the leading trainer in Florida for the past three seasons, presents the Dr. Jim Morrison Memorial Cup to Ivan "Bobby" Clark, representing his wife Joycelyn, whose four-year-old filly, WILD ORCHID, won the $150,000 feature over 6 1/2 furlongs, the penultimate race in the Jamaica Championship series for four-year-olds and upwards, at Caymanas Park on Saturday. Looking on are jockey Karl Brown and trainer Andrew Nunes.