01/17/2009 12:00AM

Ziadie targeting another title

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OLDSMAR, Fla. - Few trainers have enjoyed more success at Tampa Bay Downs than Kirk Ziadie, so it should come as no surprise that he seems ready to make a run at the training title here this season. Ziadie won the title in 2005-06 but scaled back his local operation the past two seasons before returning this meet with a barn full of runners.

Ziadie surged to the front in the standings coming into Saturday's program, having saddled 14 winners from 31 starters, a blistering 45 percent win rate.

While racing mostly older, seasoned runners, Ziadie said recently that his young runners will be coming out soon, and he has high hopes for some of his 3-year-olds.

"I gave my young horses a bit more time this past year to develop and mature," Ziadie said. "I've been trying to give the youngsters time to grow into themselves and be more fundamentally developed before starting them. This way they'll hopefully be sounder and able to race longer."

Ziadie based most of his stock in south Florida the past two winters, but the sandy strip at Tampa Bay Downs and the laid-back atmosphere of the local barn area prompted him to return in force this season.

"The racing surface here is so good and the horses seem to like it so much, I just wanted to get back here to train," he said. "Richard Averill is one of my top owners and he's from this area, so that also played into our decision.

"We've got 30 head here and more at other locations, so we're hopeful our good fortune will continue and we can make a run at the training title. I know Jamie [Ness] is a tough competitor and I have a lot of respect for the way he runs his outfit, but I love competition and love challenges. It will be fun to see what happens this year."

Fierce Wind returns a winner

Trainer Will Phipps, who brought the crack sprinter Dream Rush here to win two straight, kept his perfect record intact when he sent out Fierce Wind to win an overnight handicap Friday.

Fierce Wind, who won the Sam Davis Stakes in his last local start, had been off since March but looked fresh and fit through the lane while turning back stakes winner Wayzata Bay in the 1 1/16-mile race. Phipps reported Fierce Wind came out of his 10th-place finish in the Florida Derby worse for wear and was sent to Kentucky for rest and rehabilitation.

"He went to Hub Johnson's Kesmarc Farm in Lexington, and they did a wonderful job with him," the trainer said. "There was extensive aqua therapy, he had sessions in the hyperbaric chamber, and when he came back to me at Payson Park he was in great shape and had a very solid foundation."

* Jockey Paco Lopez is splitting his time between here and Gulfstream Park, but when he's at Tampa Bay, he's a force to be reckoned with. Last Tuesday, Lopez, a finalist for the Eclipse Award for leading apprentice, had eight mounts on the program and came away with three wins and three seconds.