02/06/2007 1:00AM

Florida's newest wise guy


HALLANDALE, Fla. - When a longshot named Margarita Kid ran away with a race at Gulfstream Park, horseplayers knew there were two possible explanations for the performance. Either the victory was a total fluke, or else it had been orchestrated by a consummate wise guy.

Margarita Kid was making his career debut, and in such cases bettors are usually guided by the identity of the trainer, jockey, and owner. Using those guidelines, nobody could have put a cent on Margarita Kid. The trainer was the obscure Dubis Chaparro. The jockey, Deudis Pena-Mora, had zero wins in 2006-2007. The owner, The Big Stable, was also unknown. But Margarita Kid ran as if he had been perfectly prepared, drawing off to beat his rivals by four lengths, paying $61.20 to win.

Accident or coup?

Observant fans deduced the answer two weeks later when another first-time starter with implausible connections showed up in a maiden race at Gulfstream. You Know It's True was trained by Giuseppe Iadisernia, whose record showed no previous starts in the U.S. The jockey, Angel O. Stanley, had won two races in the last year. The owner, again, was The Big Stable.

As the crowd made a filly from the powerful barn of Todd Pletcher the odds-on favorite, nobody paid attention to You Know It's True. But the filly from The Big Stable ran down the favorite in the stretch, lighting up the tote board at $72.20.

This was no accident.

I made inquiries to learn that the proprietor of The Big Stable was the trainer, Iadisernia. When I phoned him to ask for an interview, I expected a furtive response, but he said in halting English that he would be happy to meet me. With the aid of his adviser/interpreter Jorge Falcon, Iadisernia described the intercontinental odyssey that had finally brought him to Gulfstream Park. Born in Italy, he moved as a child to Venezuela. His father loved to go to the track in Caracas, and play the pick six; Giuseppe regularly accompanied him and he fell in love with horses.

His main focus, however, was business. He started a company, Iadiexport, that sells electrical equipment and owns the Westinghouse brand name for Venezuela. Today it has 400 employees.

His financial success enabled him to get involved in the Thoroughbred business - buying, selling, racing, and, eventually, training horses. In 1997 he sold eight horses to a buyer in Puerto Rico, and the horses performed so dismally that the new owner complained. "It was a big problem," Iadisernia said. "They were charging me as a fraud."

Iadisernia decided to rectify the dispute by leaving his brother in charge of his company and going to Puerto Rico for seven months to train the animals himself. The horses won a dozen races in that time, and Iadisernia concluded that he knew something about training racehorses.

When he came home he was again consumed by business matters - "For five years I closed my eyes to horses" - but in 2003 he got serious about the sport. He started buying and training horses in an effort to win his country's biggest race, the Gran Premio Clasico Simon Bolivar, and in 2005 he saddled a three-horse entry that finished one-two-three.

He and Falcon also decided to get involved in the U.S. horse business by "pinhooking" - i.e., buying unraced horses at sales and reselling them at subsequent auctions. Their first ventures weren't successful, and Iadisernia wound up keeping most of the horses he bought. The men continued to try pinhooking and improved their skills at that tricky game. Meanwhile, their 2004 yearling purchases, including Margarita Kid and You Know It's True, were staying on a farm in Ocala, Fla., and Iadisernia spent an increasing amount of his time traveling there to train the horses. He also hired a skilled exercise rider from Venezuela to work with them.

"The horses were underdeveloped when we bought them," Iadisernia said. "We got them into shape, physically and mentally. We put more emphasis on stamina than short, fast workouts."

Iadisernia was aiming his horses for the Gulfstream season. He moved them to the Palm Meadows training center, where many of the top horses in Florida are stabled. He couldn't get as many stalls as he needed, so he put a few of his runners into the care of his countryman Chaparro, in whose name Margarita Kid ran. Iadisernia said he felt very confident before both of his first-time starters ran. And, accordingly, he bet them.

I asked Iadisernia if he was familiar with the term "wise guy," and with the aid of Falcon, I tried to explain the nuances. The term describes someone who has knowledge and skill, and who uses that skill to take an edge over other people - usually a financial advantage.

Iadisernia smiled. He comprehended. He answered: "Even though you make money with betting, the emotion of the win is more important. The money is not a big deal; my company every year has $60 million in sales. We had a long run from 2004; we were kind of frustrated. It was emotional to win our first race in the U.S. and our first race at Gulfstream Park."

Maybe the wagers weren't Iadisernia's sole objectives. But anyone who can score at a major track with winners paying $61.20 and $72.20 deserves to be hailed as the wisest of wise guys.

(c) 2007, The Washington Post