“Watching the horse on the computer, he is obviously thriving on the Puerto Rican air, because he looks absolutely fantastic. You couldn’t ask for a horse to look any better than he does. When he runs, he is a very competitive horse and he always was.”
Robert Crean is talking about Neil’s Diamond, a seven-year-old dark bay gelding by Where’s the Ring out of Cherry Grove. Bred by Crean, the seasoned racehorse recently clinched the Grade II Clasico Mister Frisky Stakes at Camarero Racetrack in Puerto Rico.
The dam of the stakes winner, Cherry Grove, was purchased by the Irish breeder and trainer back in 2011 at the Ocala Breeders Mixed Sale.
“I think I bought two mares that year down there at the same time ‒ another mare (True to Me) that produced Dani’s Victory who is still running up here. He is one year younger than Neil’s Diamond. Basically, I was looking to try and upgrade what we had at home, so that’s why I went to Ocala,” said Crean.
Cherry Grove, also an Ontario-bred, ran at Woodbine for several years and placed third in the 2005 Eternal Search stakes. The stakes-placed runner was sent to the stakes-winning stud Where’s the Ring and that led to the progeny known as Neil’s Diamond ‒ a bit of a stand-out name.
“Being by Where’s the Ring, we were coming up with different ideas, but I’ve always been a Neil Diamond fan. We couldn’t use Neil Diamond, but wanted to see if we could use Neil’s Diamond. That’s how he ended up getting his name.”
As a yearling, Neil’s Diamond made an appearance at the 2014 CTHS sale, but soon enough found himself back in the hands of Crean.
“We had a number in mind at the sale and at that time I was training and it didn’t bother me if we didn’t get what we wanted ‒ we would race him. And we did end up racing him.”
A well-established trainer on the Ontario racing circuit, Crean has been working in the industry for over 40 years. “When I came to Canada in 1972 I went to work for Hill ‘n’ Dale farm and that was my start in the thoroughbred business in Canada,” said Crean, who emigrated from Northern Ireland during The Troubles.
Training at Woodbine since 2002, the Irish trainer is no stranger to Woodbine’s winner’s circle. He has worked with several stakes winners including I’m A KittyHawk and Sweet Summit. Additionally, Crean has also trained talented horses such as I’m a Cheetah, a multiple stakes-placed horse.
Neil’s Diamond made his racing debut in the 2015 Clarendon Stakes at Woodbine. He placed third, but it didn’t take him long to figure out the game. The following spring he broke his maiden with Justin Stein aboard.
The majority of his starts at Woodbine and at the Fort were either in allowance or claiming races. As many trainers understand, the reality of continuing to run horses within stakes as their careers progress isn’t promised or guaranteed. Such was the case with Neil’s Diamond.
“Unfortunately, like many horses he did de-value in the future years. I think we lost him for $10,000. Julie Mathes claimed him from us,” said Crean, who retired from training a couple of years ago.
Neil’s Diamond continued to run in Ontario until the end of the 2018 Woodbine racing meet. Last year, during the spring and early into the summer, the dark bay gelding made a couple of starts at Oaklawn Park as well as Churchill Downs.
Then his career took a very interesting turn.
Neil’s Diamond left the claiming stage of the U.S. racing world and jetted off to Puerto Rico. Since July of 2019, Neil’s Diamond has been racing at Camarero Racetrack in Canovanas, which is southeast of the island’s capital of San Juan. Running at six and seven furlongs (and even longer this year) he has won 10 of 13 starts on the island. To date, the Ontario-bred has amassed over $200,000 in earnings from 47 career starts over the last five years.
Even though the gelding is miles away from his origins, his breeder and former owner has continued to follow his exploits abroad.
“Being selfish, we wanted him to be running up here and winning races because we were the breeders and we get breeder’s awards. But the most important thing was that he was going to be somewhere where he was going to be in good hands,” said Crean, who has been in touch with the horse’s trainer, Eric Betancourt.
The breeder is mightily impressed by the gelding’s continued performance, especially given the fact he was running at various distances across the dirt track.
“He was sprinting for six or seven races down there and then this year I guess maybe sprints didn’t go and he ended up going a mile and a sixteenth. So we watched that race very carefully to see what would happen and I was delighted when I saw that he was going back to what Justin Stein had thought ‒ that he was going to be a good horse running two turns.” And on October 18 he did just that, going 1 1/8 miles at Camarero in the Mister Frisky.
Crean is happy to see that Neil’s Diamond’s breeding has translated into his current racing success.
“When we breed it’s nice to know that the horse has speed, but ultimately if a horse is going to be a really good horse, there’s much better money if they can go around two turns. And Where’s the Ring at that point was getting horses to go around two turns.” From his last three starts at Camarero, Neil’s Diamond has found his best stride stretching out from 8.5 to even 9 furlongs.
Also noteworthy is the fact that Cherry Grove’s sire, Archers Bay, was a horse of distance, capturing the ‘98 edition of the Queen’s Plate (1 ¼ miles) as well as the Prince of Wales (1 3/16 miles). Cherry Grove herself has gone onto to produce Moonshine Martini as well as stakes-placed runner Allowed.
“We tried to complement the mare with the stallion; sometimes their progeny turns out to be different than you originally thought,” said Crean.
For Neil’s Diamond, the melody of his story led him down a different road, but his success on the Caribbean island continues to hold a very special place in the heart of his breeder back in Ontario.