The Canadian Derby is to thoroughbred trainer Robertino Diodoro what spinach was to Popeye, a hockey puck to Wayne Gretzky and moths to a street light. They go together like hotdogs and mustard. Or hair spray to Donald Trump.
Consider: Diodoro's Derby horses have crossed the finish line in front four of the last eight years although one of those Derbies - the 2017 running - saw one of those horses - Chief Know it All - disqualified after what seemed like a century of appeals and litigation. Two other years in that span of time he ran second.
"The Derby has been pretty good to me," said Diodoro on the phone from Hot Springs Arkansas - an understatement which is like saying the Super Bowl has been pretty good to the New England Patriots. "I'm excited to come back to Edmonton. It's a lot of fun and it doesn't get old running in it. It will be great to both see everybody again and run in the race," said Diodoro, who is planing on spending a full week in Edmonton. "Monday to Monday. My parents, who live in Calgary, are picking me up at the airport and my son, Thomas, is coming from Grande Prairie to help me with the horse.
Diodoro, who has won 2,750 races for purse earnings of an astonishing $51 million, first won the Derby in 2013 with Broadway Empire, the horse that sent Diodoro out of Alberta and onto the biggest stages in North America. After winning the Canadian Derby Broadway Empire won the Oklahoma Derby by four lengths. Then he went into the Breeders' Cup. Diodoro won the Canadian Derby the next year too - with Edison, who turned the lights on around the final turn and romped by many, many lengths.
After Chief Know it All's DQ, Diodoro sauntered into the winner's circle in 2018 - the last race ever at Northlands Park - with Sky Promise, who came from far back while running against a very slow early pace. Last year Diodoro was second when Something Natural's late bid came up a neck shy to Real Grace. Now he's headed to the Derby again. This time with a horse named Myopic - one of 11 horses who nominated to the Sept. 11 Derby before Wednesday's midnight deadline.
Also nominating were the likes of Tony's Tapit, who has won five races in a row and eight of 10 this year; Manitoba Derby winner Uncharacteristic and the hard charging maiden Bodemonster. Tony's Tapit, who has been winning easily while overcoming some troubled trips, has certainly caught Diodoro's attention. "Nice horse," said Diodoro of the winner of the Count Lathum and Western Canada Handicap. "I've watched his races. Nice horse."
While Tony's Tapit will likely be taken back early, Myopic will be forwardly placed. "He doesn't need to be in front but he needs to be close to it," said Diodoro. Myopic, who has only made four lifetime starts, will be trying to atone for a loss in last month's Manitoba Derby when he tired after a pressured pace and came up a tad short.
"I don't think it was the real horse that showed up in Winnipeg," said Diodoro, who was the third leading trainer in North America last year and is currently fifth this year having sent out 169 winners that have earned $5,231,342. I think he's a lot better than what he showed in Manitoba."
Myopic hardly ran a stinker in the Manitoba Derby. He was, after all, second by a length and a half and it was 10 lengths back to the third-place finisher. But when a horse, who was purchased for $200,000 and goes off at odds of 1-5, better things were certainly expected.
"It was a rushed deal. After we bought him we shipped him to Canterbury and then to Winnipeg. We only got one work into him. I thought he was a little light in weight and - I know this sounds crazy - but I don't think he liked running under the lights. Jorge (jockey Carreno) said Myopic kept wanting to look at the lights. Jorge said he tried to get the horse's attention but he said the whole way down the lane he never levelled out; he just kept looking up at the lights."
Perennial Alberta leading jockey Rico Walcott will ride Myopic in the Derby just as he has every time Diodoro has sent a horse to Edmonton for the Derby. "A lot of people told me 'The lights got to your horse.' They said it happens to a lot of horses that have never run under the lights before." With first post for Derby Day set for 2:50 p.m. at Century Mile Diodoro's connections won't have to worry about running under the lights again. "After the race he wasn't breathing hard at all."
And now? "He's had some time now. He's worked twice since the Manitoba Derby including a solid five-eighths at Canterbury on Wednesday," said Diodoro, who is currently based at Saratoga but who, with Saratoga's meet ending on Monday will soon be heading to Kentucky. "He's doing real good," Diodoro said of the three-year-old owned by Arnold Bennewith, Rick, Clayton and Lana Wiest, Randy Howg, Tim Rollingson's R6 stable and Gary Kropp.
"He's put on some weight. I'm pretty excited actually," said Diodoro who will van Myopic to Edmonton on Sunday morning. "He's a nice horse. We've got high hopes for him. Time will tell but I think he has a good chance of having a bright future. I just hope everything goes well with the ship and we'll be in business."
Diodoro is also sending an older horse, Pioneer's Spirit, for the $75,000 Century Mile Handicap. In addition to that race and the Derby, the Derby Day program will also see the $75,000 Northlands Park Distaff and the $75,000 Century Casino Oaks. "Pioneer Spirit is an old class horse that has won a couple of stakes races," said Diodoro. "He got claimed off us and we claimed him back. He's a tough old horse." Pioneer Spirit is one of 19 nominations to the Century Mile Handicap.
Included in the over-flow nominations are seven-furlong Century Mile track record holder Stone Carver, Sir Bregovic, who won four straight at B.C.'s Hastings Park, Greek Geek and west-coast invader Five Star General. In the Northlands Park Distaff there were 13 nominees including Solarity, Infinite Patience and Hidden Grace. Then in the Oaks there were 15 nominations led by the likes of Sheltered Bay, Broad Approval, Dance Shoes and She Likes to Party,
Post positions for the Derby will be drawn on Tuesday morning at 11 a.m.
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