Canadian Connection

By Noah Joseph

Over the last hundred years, Canada has played a major role in the history of thoroughbred racing. From having the oldest continuously run stakes race in North America in the Queen’s Plate to being the home of the legendary Northern Dancer, and even hosting the Breeders’ Cup in 1996. Canada’s influence can also be found in Canterbury Park’s history. In fact, Canada played a big part in one of Canterbury’s most important races in consecutive years.

The Lady Canterbury is a race filled with history. Horses bred in America, Europe, and Australia have all won this race. Some winners went on to become champions, while others became successful broodmares. Aside from the U.S., no country had ever been the birthplace of back-to-back Lady Canterbury winners. But, in 1996, that would soon change with Camlan. Camlan was bred in Canada by Knob Hill Farm, who also owned Camlan during her racing days. The daughter of Brave Shot came into the 1996 Lady Canterbury off of a second place finish in the Nassau Stakes at Woodbine. While she was treated with respect from the local crowd, she was the second choice behind Apolda, who was coming off two straight stakes wins in Kentucky. Camlan also had to deal with Sixieme Sens, who had been racing in southern California. None of that mattered. Camlan led the field for almost the entire race and went on to win, but only by a head from Apolda with Sixieme Sens finishing third. Trained by Phillip England, Camlan got her first stakes victory that afternoon. It was a homecoming for Camlan’s jockey Sandy Hawley, who rode at Canterbury when it was known as Canterbury Downs. Camlan had fans wondering “can she win the Lady Canterbury again?”

It was not to be. The 1997 Lady Canterbury belonged to K Z Bay. Like Camlan, K Z Bay was bred in Canada, but by the Kinghaven Farm, who sold her as a yearling for $3,500 to Robert Ryno, who owned and trained the daughter of Charlie Barley. K Z Bay was a modest runner who had won four times in Shakopee and finished second in a stakes race in Canada, but still hadn’t won a stakes race. She entered the Lady Canterbury that year as the longest shot on the board behind the favorite Striesen and defending champion Camlan. Paul Nolan would ride K Z Bay to one of the most memorable races in Canterbury history as she went wire-to-wire, leading track announcer Paul Allen to say “Can you believe this?! K Z Bay at 30-1 wins the Lady Canterbury!” That call and that race went down in history as K Z Bay paid $67.80 to win, with Striesen finishing second and Camlan finishing off the board.

Camlan and K Z Bay. Winners of the Lady Canterbury with a Canadian connection.

There’s No Place Like (Almost) Home

Robertino Diodoro 6-21-13He last trained in the Sonoran desert but Robertino Diodoro has the characteristics of a long-time Minnesotan.

He knows all about cold and ice. He grew up in it.

He knows all about the game of hockey. He grew up playing it and is a National Hockey League fan.

He doesn’t like it but shoveling snow is nothing new to him.

Diodoro is about as Minnesotan as a man could be. That’s because he’s Canadian, born and raised in Calgary, a hockey player until he was 21 years old and a Flames fan through and through.

He’s been training horses for two decades. A typical year previously had him in Phoenix at Turf Paradise, at one of the three Southern California tracks and then at the Northlands in Edmonton come summer, often at two sites simultaneously.

Not this time.

He’s at three, including Canterbury Park for the first time.

Diodoro decided to give Canterbury a try at the urging of local HBPA president Tom Metzen who spends winters working with the Phoenix HBPA at Turf Paradise. “He said it’s a facility you just can’t beat,” Diodoro said.

Everything in Shakopee has been as much and more than Diodoro expected, except for perhaps the most important element.

“This is the worst start I could imagine,” he said. “You get ups and downs in horse racing but the last six weeks have been probably the worst six of my entire career.”

Because?

“It’s been a complete nightmare from horses getting sick, abscesses or colic the night before a race.” His barn at Canterbury was 0-for-9 heading into Friday night’s card.

He is hopeful that streak of misfortune is about to change. “Six days ago I was ready to commit hari kari,” he said. “Then, on Saturday morning, I led three horses out in Edmonton (at Northlands) and all three of them won, including one who was the longest shot on the board in a $50 grander.”

And the stable handled by his wife, Nikki, at Hollywood Park is performing well.

“Now we need to turn things around at Canterbury and we’ll be great,” he said.

Diodoro was in Shakopee this week because he had a number of starters here, but will return to Edmonton on Monday. He has 24 horses in Shakopee, 35 at the Northlands and 20 at Hollywood Park.

Diodoro came by horse racing just as he did hockey and cold weather. He grew up with it. His grandfather, Jim Dorman, always had three of four horses he trained. His dad ran a construction company but was in the barn at 4 a.m. helping out before heading off to work, and back at the track afterward. His mother worked in mutuels on and off for years.

Nineteen years ago Diodoro took over for his grandfather. “He had one horse left,” he said.

Diodoro has a 14-year-old son, Thomas, who prefers only one aspect of racing. “He loves to bet,” he said. “He enjoys the betting just like I did at that age.” Thomas has a certain amount of racing in the blood, too – from both sides. “His mother was a jockey,” Diodoro said.

Once Diodoro gets his barn healthy, Canterbury will be everything he was told and more. He had an owner in town from Canada Friday night and was looking forward to showing him the place.

“I’ll guarantee you the crowd Canterbury had last night is one no other track in North America gets on a Thursday night, including California. It’s a great facility and atmosphere here. I know my owner from Edmonton is going to appreciate it.”

He did indeed.

Tim Gordon, the owner of an Argentine-bred named Hakuchi, watched Scott Stevens guide his horse gate to wire in a 7 and ½ furlong sprint on Thursday’s card, Diodoro’s first win of the meet. “It was a great ride,” said Gordon, who arrived in the Twin Cities that afternoon. Gordon mentioned in the paddock that his horses in Canada had now won six straight so the ill streak is over there.

Perhaps it is over now in Shakopee, too. Diodoro hopes so. As he left the paddock before Hakuchi’s race, he mentioned, only partly tongue in cheek, that trainer Dan McFarlane has a belief about bad days at the track.

“He says that when you have a real bad day it causes a certain amount of brain damage,” Diodoro said.

Minutes later, Diodoro was experiencing a gratifying form of healing.