By Jim Wells
Trainer Roberto Diodoro has moved into his recently purchased Minnesota home, located within a stone’s throw of Canterbury Park. He is close enough in his new digs to see the grandstand and its triple spires (one more than Churchill Downs) extending into the Shakopee firmament, and from there he presumably can keep watch over his new domain, the fiefdom he usurped from the clutches of the previous overlord, Mac Robertson, two seasons ago, by a mere four wins in 2014 _ thus ending a reign of nine straight titles by Robertson _ and by a commanding 16 wins in an encore last summer.
“I can see the grandstand through the trees,” he said.
Diodoro is mere minutes from the barn in which he will stable some 65 horses during the meet that gets under way Friday night, the eve of the Preakness Stakes, and runs through September 17, 69 days of racing in total. Diodoro, of course, will keep stables elsewhere, too. His reach expands to Iowa, California and Canada in addition to Minnesota.
Yet his base is in Shakopee, just as he planned a couple of years ago upon proclaiming that the Minnesota racetrack was a natural destination for him from his winter-time base at Turf Paradise in Phoenix. “I said a couple of years ago when we came back for our second season here that we wanted to try to make Canterbury our summer home,” Diodoro said. “It’s worked out like that the last couple of years. We hope it will continue.”
Diodoro purchased the home of former racing secretary Doug Schoepf, who retired during the off-season. Schoepf has been replaced by Robert Junk, who is also the racing secretary at Sunland Park in Sunland Park, N.M. Previously, he held the same position at Ruidoso Downs.
Diodoro is acquainted with the new racing secretary. “He’s a real hustler. He’ll do a good job,” said Diodoro. “He’s sharp…and he knows what’s going on.”
Canterbury has reduced the takeout on wagering this year to what management advertises as the “lowest in the country” as an incentive to expand the total handle. Equally if not more important, to horsemen certainly, is the $14.2 million in purse money this summer, the largest in track history.
Once again, the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby, the richest race on the summer calendar, will highlight the stakes program. It is scheduled for August 27, one of four Saturday evening racing cards during that month.
Diodoro, in the meantime, hopes to improve upon the 49 wins he posted last season in Shakopee. He has some pretty sound momentum from which to mount that challenge. He won 105 races over the winter at Turf Paradise in the process of claiming his third straight training title.
“Hopefully we’ll be as good if not better than last year, although numbers-wise (total horses) we’ll be down slightly,” he said. However, he has 38 horses stabled at Prairie Meadows in Altoona, Iowa, and intends to rotate stock between that location and Shakopee throughout the summer. A year ago, he kept between six and 10 horses in Iowa, so the numbers there have improved substantially. He also has eight at Woodbine and 22 at Santa Anita.
There is competition, nonetheless.
Robertson is back and loaded for bear, no longer spending the time he did previously in Delaware. Everyone alive is aware of his competitive nature.
Bernell Rhone and Francisco Bravo return with solid barns as do the usual competitors from Phoenix: Valerie Lund, Miguel Silva, Dan McFarlane, Dave Van Winkle. Still, there are those, of course, who question Diodoro’s capacity to keep track of his growing stables since his distaste for conveniences such as computers is well known. “Can he even see the forest for the trees? ” some wonder.
Doesn’t have to. He can see right through them…. all the way to the grandstand.