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Exceeding even his wildest dreams, it’s been almost a full decade since Robertino Diodoro left Alberta where he was the leading trainer and conquered the big stages of Saratoga, Churchill Downs, Oaklawn Park and just about everywhere else. This year he is back. Sort of.
“I’m bringing about 20 horses to Century Mile and I’m excited about it,” Diodoro, said from his current home base at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park. “Six are there now and I’ll have about another 15 horses by the middle of this month. My parents, including my dad, who is 95, live in Calgary. I’ve got a son in Grande Prairie. This way I’ll be able to check up on my dad and see more of my son. The purses are up this year at Century Mile and they have a solid stakes schedule. I’ll be bringing up a little bit of every thing.”
At least two of the horses Diodoro is sending to Century Mile are stakes horses: the mare Arizona Sun, who is three-for-three this year and 12 for 23 lifetime, and older horse Market Analysis, who has won two of four starts this year and who has been in the top three 13 of his 19 career starts.
“Arizona Sun is a sprinter; Market Analysis is better at a route but he will sprint too,” said Diodoro. Market Analysis is owned by Albertans Rick, Clayton and Lana Wiest and Gary Kropp.
“I’ve still got a lot of Alberta owners,” said Diodoro, who also includes the likes of Randy Howg, Charles Garvey and Tim Rollingson in that local list of clientele - owners who have been with him almost from the beginning. “They’ve stuck with me for a lot of years.”
But then why wouldn’t they? Diodoro has been money. Currently fifth in North America in wins this year with 64 victories from 322 starts, Diodoro has won over 200 races in each of the last six years. One of his owners, M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk) has been the leading owner at Oaklawn four straight years. They are currently tied for second this year with 15 wins - one behind leader Shortleaf Stable.
In his career, Diodoro has won a staggering 2,867 races. Almost 2,000 of those wins have come since he left Alberta. Even more staggering, those wins have resulted in purse earnings of over $55 million. Last year, Diodoro finished seventh in North America with 223 wins.
“It’s been a pretty good run,” Diodoro, 47, said vastly understating his brilliant success. “It’s been a lot of fun.” And to think it all started with a couple of cheap horses he leased from former top trainer Gene White when he was just 18 years old and raced at Trout Springs, a small B circuit track that was operating at the time near Calgary.
“I got 80 per cent of what the horses won; Gene got the other 20 per cent,” he once related in a Horse Racing Alberta story. “It sounded like a good deal at the time. The math, however, didn’t exactly work. Eighty per cent of nothing is still nothing.
“At the end of the summer I had to borrow money off my mom to pay the blacksmith. My mom just about had a fit. She thought I was nuts.”
But Diodoro persisted. He slowly kept building up his stable to the point where he was Alberta’s leading trainer on several occasions. Today he has close to 140 horses. Sixty of them are at Oaklawn. The rest are spread throughout the continent. Twenty of those horses are two-year-olds including a couple of “real nice” fillies.
When Oaklawn closes at the end of this week, Diodoro plans to base himself in Kentucky - at Churchill Downs and Ellis Park. He will also be sending some horses to California’s Santa Anita racetrack. At Century Mile, Karline Kingston will look after his stable.
Despite his mother’s objections, it wasn’t as if Diodoro’s deep interest in thoroughbred racing came out of left field. His mom’s dad, Jim Dorman, used to train a few horses. And his dad, Tino, used to help Dorman out in the mornings.
“I loved going with them to the track and that hasn’t changed. I still love the winning. Whether it’s with a cheap claimer or a hundred grand stake at Santa Anita. Horse racing is the most addicting thing there is. The biggest rush ever,” said Diodoro, who played sports all his life - particularly hockey and basketball.
“Playing in tournaments used to be such a big rush. But nothing compares to winning a horse race. Nothing.”
One race Diodoro will almost certainly have a horse running is this summer’s $200,000 Canadian Derby at Century Mile. A three-time winner of the Derby - Sky Promise in 2018, Edison in 2014 and Broadway Empire in 2013 - it is the latter that really kickstarted Diodoro’s career.
After Broadway Empire won the Derby the horse went on to capture the Oklahoma Derby. “Of all the highs I’ve had in this sport Broadway Empire is still one of my top highlights,” he said.
This year the Canadian Derby will be part of a promotion with the $150,000 Ontario Derby at Woodbine. Not only will the Canadian Derby winner get an exemption into the Ontario Derby, if a horse wins both races the owners get a $50,000 bonus.
“I don’t have anything for the Derby yet,” said Diodoro. “But it’s always in the works. I’ve always had great help - a great barn staff - and great owners. That’s been the key,” he said of his success. “I’m really looking forward to racing in Edmonton again.”
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