06/10/2004 11:00PM

Contrarian, 6, climbs all the way to stakes


MIAMI - Trainer Kirk Ziadie has had an amazing opening half to the 2004 season. Ziadie saddled winners at a rate of more than 40 percent this winter at Tampa, sent out Kaufy Mate to upset Gulfstream Park's $250,000 Aventura Stakes, and established a five-furlong turf-course record here with Whenthedoveflies.

But perhaps Ziadie's finest accomplishment this year is the success he has had with Contrarian, a 6-year-old gelding who has posted four consecutive victories since returning from a 27-month layoff in mid-March. On Sunday, Contrarian is slated to make his stakes debut in the $40,000 Fappie's Notebook, a 6 1/2-furlong dash that could prove a stepping-stone to the $500,000 Smile Sprint Handicap on July 10.

"We didn't have very many expectations when this horse came back from the farm because the vets said he'd never run again," said Ziadie, who trains Contrarian for the Acclaimed Racing Stable. "He's had multiple knee surgeries and has been a project for a long time. He takes a lot of work. And much of the credit should go to Lou Bronfman, who kept him on his farm in Ocala for the past couple of years. He did a wonderful job."

Ziadie brought Contrarian back from his two-plus years on the sidelines under a $10,000 claiming tag at Tampa on March 13, and the son of Montbrook had to withstand a racelong pace duel before posting a head victory. He returned to win a second-level conditioned claiming race for a $14,000 tag on April 5, then stepped into allowance competition for the first time and lasted for a neck decision on April 27.

Contrarian made his local debut against bottom-level optional claiming and allowance company here on May 16 and turned in the race of his life, setting fractions of 21.92 seconds and 44.95 before drawing off to a seven-length victory. His final time of 1:04.56 was less than .40 off the track record, and earned him a 99 Beyer Speed Figure. He was eligible to be claimed for $16,000 that day, but there were no takers.

"He was always cut out to be a nice horse," said Ziadie, who had worked with Contrarian when his father, Ralph Ziadie, trained the horse during his 3-year-old campaign. "But if you look at his knees, you can see he's had his problems. Right now I'm taking things one step at a time with him, but some horses just seem to bloom, and he's doing really good at the moment. If all goes well I'm going to point him for the Smile Sprint."

Contrarian will get a good test in the Fappie's Notebook in a field that includes the speedy Paradise Dancer, improving Lawbook, and late-striding Gold Dollar. The race could also feature a rare match between the younger Ziadie and his father, who will send out Royal Lad.

"It's tough running one against my father," said Ziadie. "But you've just got to put family aside and go out and compete to win. That's just how this business goes."

* The newest addition to the jockey colony is Joe Judice, who finished third in the standings this winter at Tampa behind Jesus Castanon and T.D. Houghton. Judice has given his book to former rider Roger Blanco.