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Holding his horses

Iadisernia won’t race on Saturdays because of his religion

“I love the horses. It’s my passion,’’ says trainer/owner Giuseppe Iadisernia. Here he greets Gadamis at Suffolk Downs. “I love the horses. It’s my passion,’’ says trainer/owner Giuseppe Iadisernia. Here he greets Gadamis at Suffolk Downs. (Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff)
By Stan Grossfeld
Globe Staff / July 7, 2009
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Here’s a sure bet. No horse trained by Giuseppe Iadisernia ever will win the Kentucky Derby.

Iadisernia has the highest winning percentage of any trainer at Suffolk Downs with more than 12 starts this season, but he never races on Saturdays, the day the Derby and most high-stakes races are held.

He’s a Seventh-day Adventist, a religion that observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

That makes him the Sandy Koufax of horse racing.

“If you gave me $5 million to run, I wouldn’t do it,’’ Iadisernia said. “I don’t race on Saturday. I respect God. My Kentucky’s in the sky, it’s not here.’’

On a recent Saturday afternoon, when the stables of Suffolk are giddyup and go, Stable 14 is serene. Iadisernia is nowhere to be seen. The horses are resting. They have been fed and their stalls have been cleaned, but that’s it.

“My horses are all Seventh-day Adventists,’’ he said with a laugh. “My secret is to work every day but Saturday, work hard, work long. That is my secret.’’

And like Koufax, who refused to pitch on the Jewish High Holiday Yom Kippur during the World Series in 1965, he doesn’t like to talk about himself. He asks a reporter not to list his age (early 50s) and he refuses to answer questions about money.

Born in Italy, Iadisernia moved to Caracas at age 6. He started working in a laundry.

“I was rich with sweat,’’ he said. “I worked 18 hours every day.’’

His dad, an electrician, liked the ponies.

“My father brought me to the track on Sundays, ’’ he said. “He would always try to win the Pick Six and something like $31 million.’’

He never did.

Halfway there
When Suffolk opened in May, there was racing only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Iadisernia missed half the races, but he didn’t care.

“People were asking me why are you not working Saturdays? I explain to them it’s good for the horses to have one day where they don’t work. The money isn’t everything in life. The Ten Commandments say you work six days. Then on the seventh day you don’t work. I respect the Ten Commandments.’’

Even with Suffolk’s current four-day racing schedule, other owners say missing even one day is financially impractical.

“I can’t afford to stop my horses from running, regardless of what religion I am,’’ says Steve Maldonado, who owns six horses. “I need the money. “[Iadisernia is] a millionaire, he’s got a ton of money, he can do that. If it was a poor guy, you’d have to run, regardless.’’

Trainer Carlos Figueroa, known as the “King of the Fairs’’ for his success at summer fairs, was even more blunt.

“When you got money, you get funny,’’ says Figueroa. “The point is - the truth is nobody knows the truth [about religion]. People believe in things like that because they’ve been brainwashed.’’

In the saddle
When he was 18, Iadisernia, his brother, and a friend bought a horse named Patterson. He won his fourth start, a long shot at 20-1, but led an otherwise undistinguished career. It would take Iadisernia four decades to pursue his dream full time.

First, he started Iadiexport, an electrical equipment company in Venezuela with a reported $60 million in sales. He says he now has five companies and 700 employees.

Electricity was his business, but horses charged his blood.

“I love the horses,’’ he says, kissing one of his ponies. “It’s my passion.’’

In 1997, he sold six horses to a buyer in Puerto Rico.

The buyer was very angry.

“He said, ‘Hey, you took my money. The horses are no good.’ I said, ‘Why are the horses no good?’ I got on a plane to Puerto Rico and I said, ‘Don’t touch the horses.’ I worked with the horses. I stayed nine months until every single horse was a winner. I finished and went back to Venezuela.’’

Seven years later, his horses finished win, place, and show in the Gran Premio Clasico Simon Bolivar, Venezuela’s biggest race.

He started buying unraced horses, training them, and reselling them, a process called “pinhooking.’’

“The first time it was very bad,’’ he said. “I’d buy a horse for $20,000, then have to sell him for $10,000, but I kept working and working.’’

He moved his family from Venezuela because of a rash of kidnappings. He bought a farm in Ocala, Fla., and raced at Tampa, Gulfstream, and Belmont. When some of his long shots won, he was featured in the Washington Post.

He raised more eyebrows when Delosvientos, a 5-year-old gelding he owned and trained, won the Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont in 2008.

“Last year it was possible for my horse to run in the Breeders’ Cup but I didn’t run it,’’ Iadisernia said. “Each day in my life is happy. Every race is a different race.’’

Earlier this year, he asked Suffolk officials if they’d have room for 45 horses, most of which he owned. They said yes.

Iadisernia, who travels so much he claims to “live on a plane,’’ chartered a plane to fly the horses to Logan Airport. They had to put Delosvientos, who weighs more than the others, over the wing.

Some at Suffolk thought the airlift extravagant. Iadisernia shook his head.

“From Ocala, you pay $800 for trucking per horse; 30 hours on the road is tiring. So you pay [for the plane]. It’s much easier on the horse, and you win more money.’’

Going with his heart
Asked why he decided to become an Adventist nine years ago, Iadisernia insists there was no life crisis or premonition.

“Everybody has something in their heart,’’ he says.

Kendry Castillo, a longtime jockey for Iadisernia, also refuses to race Saturdays.

“I’m not the same religion but I respect his religion,’’ says Castillo.

“I’m committed to Giuseppe. I’m not riding for anybody else out of loyalty.’’

Iadisernia says he never prays for his horse to win.

“I know God is for everything, animals and everything,’’ he says. “I pray for my family, the children. I pray for the world because everybody is a brother in the eyes of God.’’

He said he spends the Sabbath reading the Ten Commandments and visiting people in the community to try to help them.

Adventists believe that gambling is “incompatible with Christian principles. It is not an appropriate form of entertainment or a legitimate means of raising funds,’’ according to Adventist beliefs. The Adventists also believe in “total abstinence of alcohol.’’

But Suffolk Downs is desperately trying to bring slot machines to the struggling track to raise much-needed revenues.

Iadisernia is uncomfortable with the subject and worries that his words might not be portrayed accurately.

“Life is life,’’ he said. “Gambling and alcohol, it’s complicated, it’s not easy. It’s not good for life. Everything like that is not good for life. It destroys the family. Gambling is no good.’’

Asked if he felt hypocritical, Iadisernia smiles.

“I want to breed horses [someday],’’ he said.

Despite his beliefs on gambling, Iadisernia is welcome at Suffolk.

“They say that if you don’t stand for something, you fall for everything. He runs a very professional outfit,’’ says Sam Elliott, vice president of racing.

It’s post time at Suffolk and Iadisernia has his arm draped around his 8-year-old son. When the race starts, Iadisernia paces in the grandstand. His son, Misael, stays put.

“My dad told me the most important thing is that the horse comes back to the barn safely,’’ says his son, proudly.

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at grossfeld@globe.com.