The race for Oaklawn Park’s training title offers one of the few predictable elements in racing. Either Steve Asmussen or Robertino Diodoro has finished first or second every year since 2017.
Diodoro’s lone breakthrough occurred in 2020 before Asmussen rebounded to capture his record-tying 11th crown overall in a year that also saw him surpass Dale Baird as the all-time leader in victories in North America. Diodoro, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly prominent on the national scene. He recently placed Dream Lith on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks after her victory in the Nov. 27 Golden Rod (G2) at Churchill Downs.
According to Equibase, Diodoro ranked 17th, with $7,027,756 in earnings as of Dec. 7. His far-flung operation was winning at a 25 percent clip, with 214 victories from 846 starts.
Diodoro has a full barn of 40 horses for the Oaklawn meet, including a significant number of maidens, as he again renews his pursuit of Asmussen. He took Horse Racing Nation on a Barn Tour to provide a glimpse of his top talent.
Lone Rock. This 6-year-old marathoner, winner of the 1 5/8-mile Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G2) on the Breeders’ Cup Classic undercard, is being pointed toward the inaugural Tinsel Stakes on Dec. 18 at Oaklawn. That would equate to a quick stroll through the park for him at a mile and an eighth. This son of Majestic Warrior has finished no worse than second in his last seven starts, including five victories.
“We’re going to let him tell us that he’s ready to go, and right now he’s telling us that he’s ready to go,” Diodoro said of the Tinsel. Lone Rock was claimed for $40,000 on July 29, 2020, out of a second-place finish at Saratoga. “We saw a big, solid horse,” the trainer said. “Did we think he was going to turn into this? No.”
Lone Rock boasts six victories in eight starts this season for earnings of more than $700,000 that pushed him past the million-dollar mark.
Dream Lith. This dark bay daughter of Medaglia d’Oro was largely overlooked until she rallied for a dramatic victory in the $400,000 Golden Rod on Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs to earn 10 qualifying points for the Kentucky Oaks. She won her debut at 36-1 on Aug. 8 at Saratoga before fifth-place finishes in the Spinaway (G1) at Saratoga and the Alcibiades (G1) at Keeneland.
“We’ve always liked this filly. Right from Day One, we thought she was a filly that wanted to go two turns,” Diodoro said.
He credits success in the Golden Rod to the addition of blinkers and a much better trip than in either of the previous two races. She had run only in spurts before she was equipped with blinkers. After a freshening at Cypress Creek in Midway, Ky., she will head to Oaklawn at the start of the new year to compete in two prep races there with the hope that they will lead to the Oaks.
Keepmeinmind. This bay son of Laoban is being given an extended vacation until mid-February, with an eye toward the start of his 4-year-old campaign late in the Oaklawn meet. Although he went winless in seven starts as part of an ambitious campaign this season, expectations are high for him as a 4-year-old.
“We’ve said from day one that he’d be a better older horse,” Diodoro said. “We’re pretty excited about him.”
Major races such as the Whitney (G1) are on the radar for Keepmeinmind, last seen running fourth in the Travers (G1).
Thomas Shelby. This is another former claimer that turned into something special. This 5-year-old gelded son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin swept 7 of 11 starts and failed to hit the board just once while banking $290,957 for M and M Racing, a top client. He did so while competing at Oaklawn, Lone Star, Saratoga, Keeneland and Churchill.
Diodoro: “He’s a horse that just keeps getting better and better. We found out last year that he likes going two turns. He’s a well-bred horse. Curlins are known to get better with age. He’s definitely shown that. His running style has become dangerous. He’s got speed and he carries it."
Ava’s Grace: Although this runner-up in the Fantasy Stakes (G3) as a 3-year-old has obvious talent, her first two seasons were abbreviated. She last surfaced in a June 19 start at Belmont Park. She resumed training at Oaklawn a couple of weeks ago. She has yet to work, and no races have been circled.
“She had some issues that needed to be fixed up, and I think some time off is definitely going to help her going into her 4-year-old year,” Diodoro said, confident that good results are ahead if this bay daughter of Laoban stays sound.