Trainer Robertino Diodoro’s drive toward *3,000 career victories continued Saturday, December 17 at Oaklawn racetrack in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The theme was more of the same – claimed older horses climbing the class ladder in two-turn events.
Diodoro’s two victories included a front-running score by Bal Harbour, who held off Grade 2 winner Last Samurai by a neck in the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles. The Tinsel came approximately 30 minutes after Diodoro won the eighth race, a 1 1/16-mile conditioned allowance, with Disc Jockey. The purse was $104,000.
Diodoro has 2,987 victories according to Equibase (see editor’s note below) and is 37th on the list of all-time leading trainers in North America by wins. Canadian Frank Merrill is 16th with 3,974 wins.
Bal Harbour ($13.60) was making his third start since Diodoro claimed him for $50,000 out of a blowout victory at 1 1/8 miles Sept. 5 at Saratoga. Disc Jockey is 3 for 3 since Diodoro claimed him for $25,000 out of a Sept. 23 victory going a mile at Los Alamitos.
Diodoro’s double came almost exactly one year after his biggest claim to fame, Lone Rock, won the Tinsel by three-quarters of a length over stablemate Thomas Shelby. After re-claiming Lone Rock for $40,000 in November 2020 at Churchill Downs, the gelding, now 7, flourished in 2021 when moved to races at much longer distances, specifically 1 ½ miles, 1 5/8 miles and 1 ¾ miles. He became a millionaire multiple Grade 2 winner.
“I just love these kind of horses, old class horses that go a distance,” Diodoro said in the Larry Snyder Winner’s Circle following Bal Harbour’s victory. “I think I get a lot of that from my grandpa and my dad because again they were small trainers, but they always, especially my grandpa, wanted a marathoner. Got to have distance.”
Despite losing two major clients earlier this year – four-time Oaklawn leading owner M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk) and Cypress Creek Equine – Diodoro has been surging this fall after claiming heavily, from coast-to-coast, on behalf of recent additions John Holleman and Jerry Caroom.
Diodoro and Caroom, a retired Hot Springs businessman, were 1 for 1 together at the Del Mar fall meeting and 7 for 7 at Remington Park, which closed Saturday. Caroom owns Disc Jockey, a 5-year-old son of 2012 Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister.
Holleman owns Bal Harbour and races Lovely Ride, winner of the $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes Dec. 10 at Oaklawn, in partnership. Lovely Ride represented the first Oaklawn victory for Holleman, a Little Rock, Ark., attorney who started his first horse in November 2021 at Churchill Downs.
“As a stable, we got way down on numbers, then John is getting more into the stable and into the game,” Diodoro said. “So, we’re trying to build up a stable and get John up. It was getting a little stressful, because again, the claiming game has just got so tough all over the country. To be ready for here, I was starting to sweat a little bit.”
Diodoro said Bal Harbour will be pointed to the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 18 at Oaklawn. Lone Rock finished sixth in last year’s Razorback before returning to marathon events.
Lone Rock recently resumed training in Florida, Diodoro said, and is scheduled to arrive early next month at Oaklawn. Diodoro said Lone Rock won’t resurface until later in the Oaklawn meeting and one race being targeted is the $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes April 2. Lone Rock won the 1 ½-mile Temperence Hill last season. He finished second in its inaugural running in 2021, which marked his return to stakes company.
Saturday’s victory was the seventh in 34 lifetime starts for Bal Harbour and increased his earnings to $870,880. Bal Harbour was exiting a third-place finish in the $350,000 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Stakes (G2) at 1 5/8 miles Nov. 4 at Keeneland. Lone Rock won the race in track-record time last year at Del Mar.
The Tinsel marked the fourth career stakes victory and first in more than four years for Bal Harbour. He also finished second, beaten a half-length, in the $750,000 Woodward Stakes (G1) at 1 1/8 miles in 2019 at Saratoga for future Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. Bal Harbour is by First Samurai.
“It’s easy to say now; I thought it was a good claim before the race,” Diodoro said. “I was really excited. I said to a friend of mine that the claiming game’s got so tough, that it’s few and far between when you drop a claim, I don’t care if it’s for $20,000 or $80,000, and you’re like ‘Oh, please, oh, please, because I want this horse.’ This was one of those horses and I’m not just saying that, now that it’s turned out. He was one of those horses that I was really excited to get. And then, of course, the day we claimed him, he hit a muddy track, which he loves the mud, and won by seven or eight lengths. Initially, even though it doesn’t put money in John’s pocket or mine, it makes you feel good at the time that this horse still has some run in him, right?”
*Editor’s note: Diodoro saddled his first winner at TROUT SPRINGS ‘B’ track in Alberta in 1992 and there were three years of victories before he had starters at recognized tracks. According to Equibase, his first starter as a trainer was in 1995 at Northlands Park in Edmonton.