Diodoro, Asmussen may battle for Oaklawn training title

Diodoro, Asmussen may battle for Oaklawn training title
Photo: Oaklawn Park

The Oaklawn trainer’s race annually boils down to Big Blue (the stable colors of Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen) vs. Big Red (the stable colors of Robertino Diodoro).

The trainers have finished 1-2 in the standings at every Oaklawn meeting since 2017, with Asmussen claiming the title in 2017, ‘18, ‘19 and ‘21, which marked his record-tying 11th overall. Diodoro broke through in 2020, a year after helping his major client, M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk), establish a single-season Oaklawn record for owners with 61 victories.

Diodoro returns to Hot Springs, Ark., with a full barn (40 horses) in hopes of unseating Asmussen, North America’s all-time winningest trainer and the second-winningest trainer in Oaklawn history.

“I think we’ve got a few more maidens this year, which is always good to have,” Diodoro said. “Hopefully, once we get a little close to running, hopefully, some of them show enough promise to run maiden special weights. But maidens overall are good to have. We definitely have more of them. Still trying to gather up a few more for the meet.”

Diodoro’s unquestioned stable star is multiple Grade 2 winner and millionaire Lone Rock, a 6-year-old Majestic Warrior gelding who has flourished at marathon distances.

Lone Rock recently arrived at Oaklawn after setting a 1 5/8-mile track record in winning the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Stakes (G2) Nov. 6 at Del Mar. Lone Rock won allowance races at 1 1/16 miles and 1½ miles during the 2021 Oaklawn meeting and is under consideration for its inaugural $200,000 Tinsel Stakes on Dec. 18, Diodoro said. The Tinsel is 1 1/8 miles.

Diodoro said the Tinsel could be an option for win-machine Thomas Shelby, who captured a starter-allowance route Thursday at Churchill Downs. Thomas Shelby, who is owned by M and M Racing, has won three consecutive starts and seven of 11 overall this year. He was a two-time winner at the 2021 Oaklawn meeting.

Diodoro said Grade 2 winner Keepmeinmind is receiving a break a Cypress Creek Farm in Midway, Ky., after missing the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) Sept. 25 at Parx because of a foot abscess. Keepmeinmind began his busy 2021 campaign with a sixth-place finish in the Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds in March at Oaklawn. He later finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby, fourth in the Preakness Stakes and fourth in his last start, the Travers Stakes (G1) on Aug. 28 at Saratoga.

“He’s having a short little break right now,” Diodoro said. “You’ll see him, most likely, the last part of the meet here. He’s doing good. We really just gave him the time off because he was tired.”

Diodoro said Ava’s Grace, runner-up in the Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies last April at Oaklawn, is about to resume training and there’s a chance she could start at the 2021-22 meeting. Ava’s Grace is unraced since June.

A 2-year-old to watch is Dream Lith, a Medaglia d’Oro filly who won her Aug. 8 career debut at Saratoga and finished fifth in the $400,000 Alcibiades Stakes (G1) Oct. 8 at Keeneland in her last start.

Diodoro began wintering at Oaklawn in 2015 and has 238 victories overall, including eight stakes. He won nine races in 2015, 22 in ‘16, 31 in ‘17, 32 in ‘18, 48 in ‘19 and a personal-best 52 in ‘20. Diodoro had 44 winners at the 2021 Oaklawn meeting.

Diodoro’s biggest career victory in Hot Springs came in 2017 with Inside Straight in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses.

Asmussen has 755 career Oaklawn victories. He won 60 races at the 2021 meeting.

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