Updated on 09/17/2011 10:42AM

Ziadie's finally got one

Jean Raftery/Turfotos
Trust N Luck wins the What a Pleasure on Dec. 14 at Calder with a 110 Beyer, tops among 2-year-olds in 2002. The victory gives trainer Ralph Ziadie his first Kentucky Derby prospect.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Ralph Ziadie has trained horses for 47 years, both in the United States and his native Jamaica. He has won three Grade 1 races with Sir Bear, won the Jamaica Derby - his country's most important race - with Royal Crest, and took Tahkodha Hills to the Belmont Stakes.

Despite those accomplishments, Ziadie has yet to achieve the goal he set for himself in 1979 when he first took out his U.S. trainer's license - to run a horse in, and perhaps win, the Kentucky Derby.

Ziadie, 64, had no reason last summer to believe he might be on the verge of realizing that dream when he brought his crop of 2-year-olds to the races at Calder. Sure, he knew he had a good one in Trust N Luck, a son of Montbrook who sold for $200,000 at the February Ocala Breeders' Sales auction. But even after Trust N Luck ran away to an easy victory in October in the $400,000 In Reality, the final leg of the Florida Stallion Stakes, Ziadie was reticent to talk about the possibility of putting his colt on the Derby trail.

That all changed on the afternoon of Dec. 14 in Calder's What a Pleasure Stakes, when Trust N Luck ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44 en eroute to an 11-length victory. The performance earned Trust N Luck a 110 Beyer Speed Figure, easily the best for any 2-year-old in the country in 2002, and thrust this little-known colt and his quietly intense trainer into the limelight and onto the Kentucky Derby trail.

But after spending nearly five decades in the business, Ziadie knows better than to get too excited over one race.

"I'm still not sure he's a Kentucky Derby contender yet," said Ziadie. "The 110 is beautiful but I've seen $5,000 claimers run high Beyer numbers and then you put them in an allowance race and you can't find them. Class is class. I'm not saying this horse doesn't have class, he beat a couple of decent horses in the What a Pleasure, but he didn't face the kind of competition he'll meet here this winter at Gulfstream. I'll wait until he beats some real good horses and then I'll start getting high on him."

Owned by Einar Robsham, Trust N Luck made eight starts as a 2-year-old, winning half of them and earning $382,000. Both his In Reality and What a Pleasure victories came at 1 1/16 miles, giving him experience racing around two turns.

If Trust N Luck does indeed prove to be Kentucky Derby caliber, he would go into the Derby with only two starts as a 3-year-old: the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 15 and the Florida Derby on March 15.

"I talked it over with Mr. Robsham and we're going straight to the Fountain of Youth," said Ziadie. "He's already had a lot of races and if he's going to be a Derby contender I don't want him to be dancing every dance. You need a fresh horse going into the Derby. I won't even give him another prep after the Florida Derby if he's earned his way to Kentucky at that point.

"I can train him up to the Kentucky Derby and I think being stabled at Calder is a big advantage because it's a heavy track and horses get very fit over that surface. I proved that time and again with Sir Bear."

Ziadie will be defying convention if he keeps Trust N Luck on such a path. Veteran Derby trainers such as Bob Baffert, Nick Zito and D. Wayne Lukas usually give their Derby hopefuls at least three starts as 3-year-olds, including a start three or four weeks before Derby Day in a prep such as the Blue Grass, Wood Memorial, or Santa Anita Derby.

"Let them do what they want to do," said Ziadie. "But I've seen one more race cost plenty of horses their best chance to win the Derby. If my horse does prove to be good enough to be put on the Triple Crown trail I don't want to brutalize him, especially with those three races so close together."

There are many observers who believe Trust N Luck might be one-dimensional since each of his victories, including the What a Pleasure, came when he was allowed to relax on the lead. Ziadie, however, doesn't think his horse necessarily has to be in front to win.

"He's going to have to be close but I don't think he has to be on the lead," said Ziadie. "Of course, if they want to give him the lead in any of the big races that will be fine with me. And any horse that tries to go with him will be in trouble."

Although Ziadie has had plenty of experience in important races, striking out on the Kentucky Derby trail is another matter altogether.

"I'm sure there will be pressure on me if he continues to progress towards the Kentucky Derby," said Ziadie. "I got a taste of the big time with Sir Bear and I was nervous before the Belmont with Tahkodha Hills. But none of those races are the Kentucky Derby."

Ziadie also said he will not take his horse to Churchill Downs merely for the sake of being in the race.

"I always said if I had a good 3-year-old I'd never go just to run a horse in the Derby," said Ziadie. "I must be very confident my horse has a chance to win it or we won't be there."

Running a 110 Beyer Speed Figure in December is a long way from winning the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. But for trainer Ralph Ziadie it's the kind of number that dreams are made of.