Earlier this week I wrote about the Rico Walcott factor - the eight-time Alberta jockey champion and winner of five Canadian Derbies virtually having his pick of mounts and choosing probable favourite Synergy for Sunday’s $100,000 mile and a quarter renewal at Century Mile.
This column is the Robertino Diodoro factor. Diodoro has won four of the last seven Canadian Derbies. He goes for his fifth on Sunday with a horse that will probably be an overlooked overlay: Something Natural, a horse that appeared to be a disinterested third in the Manitoba Derby behind Mongolian Wind and Mr. Unusual, who have both come to Edmonton, a horse that was claimed for just $20,000 out of a race where he was defeated by 15 lengths and a horse that hasn’t won since Feb. 15.
But to ignore Diodoro is like ignoring the elephant in the room and Diodoro is a big elephant having firmly establishing himself as one of the top trainers in North America with 209 wins this year - third best on the continent behind only Steve Asmussen and Karl Broberg. Never mind that Diodoro’s win percentage (22%) is higher than both Asmussen (19%) and Broberg (also 19%).
More to the point, Diodoro thinks Something Natural is more than ready. “I think he’s going to run big,” Diodoro said of the three-year-old that drew post 9 at Wednesday morning’s post position draw. Twyla Bensmiller, who has been looking after (Something Natural) in Edmonton, sent me before and after pictures from when she first got him over a month ago to this week. They look like two different horses. It’s incredible.”
Diodoro said he believes Something Natural was only about “20 percent right for the Manitoba Derby. He just wasn’t ready. “It was a long ship to Canterbury Downs from Kentucky and then it was a long ship from Canterbury to Winnipeg. “He was underweight when he ran in the Manitoba Derby. He’s still not big but he looks 100 per cent better,” said Diodoro, who finished third in North America last year in wins.
If Something Natural runs back to what he showed last winter and early this spring, Diodoro could be right. After all, the chestnut son of Violence did run second to Wells Bayou at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park. Wells Bayou won the $1-million Twinspires Louisiana Derby. No other horse in the race which saw 11 horses entered Wednesday can boast anything close to that.
Something Natural also won a solid allowance race at Oaklawn. “He’s got some good, solid works in him. He worked a nice five furlongs recently and galloped out strong,” said Calgary born and raised Diodoro, who left Alberta in 2012. “I really believe he’s going to move up big time from his last race.”
As for the fourth-place finish when he was claimed in Kentucky by the same owners that won the Canadian Derby in 2017 (Chief Know it All) and 2018 (Sky Promise) and where he was defeated by 15 lengths, Diodoro said Something Natural “washed out badly. “The cooler weather is going to help him.” Diodoro also won the 2013 Derby with Broadway Empire and the 2014 Derby with Edison.
Gambler drew the rail for the Derby; Big Al’s Vision got post two; At Attention starts from post three; Rail Hugger is four; Bare Back Jack drew post five; Mr. Unusual starts from post six; local favourite Maskewcis drew post seven; Real Grace is eight; Something Natural is nine; Synergy got post 10 and Mongolian Wind the outside 11 post.
Diodoro said he is “happy” with the nine-hole.
“In a big field I’d rather be out there than have the one or two post positions. “We’re not on a bull ring anymore so the post isn’t going to hurt him,” said Diodoro, referencing the one-mile Century Mile track compared to Northlands five-eighths of a mile oval. “Hopefully he runs out of there a little, crosses over and lays fourth or fifth.” While Synergy is the likely favourite he won’t be the overwhelming choice by any means as this Derby is really wide open.
Maskwecis is the local favourite having won three of his four starts this year - all at Century Mile - including the Beaufort and Western Canada stakes. However, Maskwecis will have to overcome a quarter-crack injury on his right front foot which trainer R.K. ‘Red’ Smith said surfaced 10 days ago. “The big thing is getting the infection out which we did. We’ve put a bar shoe on him and the last couple of days he’s been training good and he went real good (Wednesday). He’s a tough horse.
“Horses run and win with quarter-cracks all the time. The big question is whether he wants a mile and a quarter. The pedigree doesn’t say so but hopefully the heart does.”
Smith said he is also worried by a lack of speed in the race. “Real Grace should be in front by himself,” he said of the horse who ran tough against older horses last time and led most of the way in the Count Lathum two starts ago before being caught by Rail Hugger in a race where Maskwecis was third.
“Bare Back Jack should lay up pretty close but outside of that most of the horses look a lot like mine and want to be sitting just off the pace,” said Smith. “I think Rail Hugger and Mongolian Wind are the two tough horses in the race. And Synergy.” Synergy is three-for-three this year with all of his wins coming at Hastings Park in Vancouver, B.C.
Rail Hugger would appear to really enjoy the mile and a quarter distance. He came from well back to win the Count Lathum and was running away at the end.
Mongolian Wind has won three in a row including the Manitoba Derby by a head over Mr. Unusual.
STOCK REPORT - Sunday’s first post is 5:15. The Derby is the 10th race on a 12-race program which has three other stakes race in its lineup: the Century Casino Oaks for three-year-old fillies; the well-matched Northlands Distaff Handicap which drew a field of 11 older fillies and mares and the Century Mile Handicap for older horses which attracted a field of 10.
There is also the $33,370 added Alberta Derby Final for quarterhorses. Friday’s card has been moved up to 6:15 p.m. There are two stakes on Friday’s card - the Freedom of the City for two-year-old fillies where She Likes to Party is the 3-5 morning line favourite and the Birdcatcher for two-year-old colts and geldings where Dad’s Legacy is the 9-5 favourite.
Follow me on Twitter at CurtisJStock