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JONES: Top trainer Robertino Diodoro keeping Alberta on horse racing's map

Jockey Orlando Mojica (left) and trainer Robertino Diodoro pose with the trophy after Mojica rode Oil Money to victory in the Manitoba Derby at Assiniboia Downs on Aug. 5, 2019.
Jockey Orlando Mojica (left) and trainer Robertino Diodoro pose with the trophy after Mojica rode Oil Money to victory in the Manitoba Derby at Assiniboia Downs on Aug. 5, 2019.

If this keeps up, Robertino Diodoro may end up being the biggest thing in Alberta thoroughbred horse racing since legendary jockey Johnny Longden.

Diodoro, who began his career as a trainer for a decade at Northlands Park, has won the top trainer title of the just completed Oaklawn Park meet on Arkansas Derby day with his 52nd win of the meet when a 57-to-one long shot came in and paid $117.60, $35.80 and $18.20.

The only thing that could have made the day any better would have been if Sky Promise, winner of the 2018 Canadian Derby – the last race ever held at Northlands Park – had managed to win the $600,000 Arkansas Derby for him, too. He was only 20-to-1.

It was the fifth straight season Diodoro and his team raced the March-April meet at Oaklawn.

“We’d been second three years in a row. This was our first time on top,” Diodordo said via cell phone as he hauled horses from Arkansas to Lone Star in Dallas.

“Last year, we had 48 wins and none of them were 57-to-one long shots that paid $117 to win,” he laughed.

“Dunph is a four-year-old horse we claimed. He was supposed to be a nice horse but had a tough year as a three-year-old. The day we claimed him, he won. We moved him up into a real tough allowance race Saturday and he ran just a huge race. If we can keep him healthy, hopefully he’ll have a good summer ahead of him.”

The Calgary born and raised Diodoro finished third in North America in wins last year and left Oaklawn for Lone Star sitting second in the North American trainer standings for wins. And that’s despite it being a lot tougher out there this year because of the reduced number of tracks not up and running yet due to COVID-19. The top talent, on four legs or two, are all converging on the meets that are going ahead without fans in the stands.

So far this year, the Diodordo stable has 112 wins and $2,953,128 in purse money won with a win percentage of 23. He’s pushing Bob Baffert’s runaway leading 32 per cent.

From his beginnings in 1995 through 2010, Diodoro didn’t manage to crack the $1 million mark, but then he put a collection of owners together, encouraged them to buy good horses, and headed south.

Diodordo is currently ahead of previous purse paces racing toward a record year to top the $5-6 million levels he’s managed in each of the last three years.

There haven’t been many make-it-big horse racing stories out of Alberta since Longden came out of Taber and rode his first races in the province to launch his career.

It would be impossible to match Longden’s story. Indeed, you might say Diodoro already missed the boat on that.

Longden’s father emigrated from England in 1909 and settled in Taber. Three years later, he sent for his wife and young son to join him. The two were on a train to Southampton to board a ship to New York but the train was late and the ship, the Titanic, sailed without them.

Longden had early success in Alberta and left to go to Santa Anita in 1927. When he retired in 1959, he had the most wins in horse racing history with 6,032, including winning the 1943 Triple Crown aboard Count Fleet.

When he quit riding, Longden, operated a racing stable under the name of Alberta Ranches Ltd. In partnership with longtime friends Frank McMahon (think McMahon Stadium) and Max Bell (think Max Bell Arena), Longden became the only person to ever win the Kentucky Derby as both a jockey and a trainer when he captured the 1969 Derby with McMahon’s Magestic Prince.

Longden wasn’t the only big time success story out of Alberta. There was Red Pollard, born in Edmonton in 1909, the jockey who rode the famed Seabiscuit throughout his career. But that, too, was a long time ago.

So much for the history lesson. The point is Diodoro is doing something special and the man who has gone out of his way to bring a few horses here during Canadian Derby week (and has won three of the last five), certainly hasn’t been cutting his ties to Alberta where the local horsemen have been on hold to begin their season at Century Mile.

“We have a pretty good team put together. We have a good crew and a good group of owners who allow me to run these horses where they belong. A lot of races are won at the entry box,” he said.

His owners include Rick, Clayton, Lana and Richard Wiest, Tim Rollingson, Charlie Butz and Randy Howg, all from the Lethbridge area; Norm and Natalie Tremblay from Grande Prairie and Charles Garvey from Leduc.

Normally, they make trips to the various meets but with no fans in the stands he misses them.

“We’re grateful that we can run but it’s very depressing, especially at a place like Oaklawn with no fans, because they have such a great fan base.”

Diodordo hopes the Alberta horsemen will be back racing at Century Mile soon and that he can visit with everybody and bring some horses from his stable here to race in late August, as usual, and have fans in the stands.

“When it’s all said and done, Alberta is still home. We didn’t have anybody in the stands but I had a lot of texts from people back home ever since Saturday night. It’s means a lot.”


On Twitter: @ByTerryJones

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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