Olmstead Loaded For Closing Night at Prairie Meadows

Saturday marks the final day of the season racing for quarter horses at Prairie Meadows and the first day of the Turf Paradise meeting, which runs predominantly thoroughbreds. Both will offer Canterbury familiarity for those that played the Shakopee meet this spring and summer.

Prairie Meadows begins at 4 p.m. Saturday and will run 11 races including eight stakes. Canterbury’s five-time leading quarter horse trainer Jason Olmstead ,with 28 victories, leads the Iowa meet by 10 wins over Alex Wessels with racing tonight and Saturday.

Olmstead, who finished second in the standings the past five seasons, is seeking his first Prairie Meadows title.

“I’ve always been chasing Stacy [Charette-Hill] and just never could get in front,” Olmstead said.

He signaled the strength of his stable by winning three races on their opening day, Aug. 17.

Jason Olmstead

Southard Queen, Five Bar Bodee who previously won Canterbury’s richest QH race the $156,200 Mystic Lake Northlands Futurity, and Eagle Deluxe, victorious in the Keokuk Stakes that day, all won.

“Even when his horses aren’t winning, they’re competitive,” Prairie Meadows racing analyst John Hernandez said. “Case in point: Sunday October 6, Olmstead had seven starters, with six seconds and one third.”

Olmstead has started more horses and earned more purses than any trainer at the meet. On Saturday, Olmstead will saddle 15 horses, one in the opener and 14 over six stakes races.

“They’re all sitting on go,” the trainer said.

Olmstead teamed up in Altoona with jockey Justin Shepherd, better known for his thoroughbred prowess – he has 1,098 career thoroughbred wins and multiple graded stake victories. Together they have won 15 times. Berkley Packer also has ridden several trials and stakes for Olmstead, winning 10 races.

“[Shepherd] was doing well and winning races before I really had anyone running,” Olmstead said. “He’s having fun with it, riding good horses. He can ride with any of them.”

Owned by Tom Maher, Apollitical Mogul, was the fastest qualifier for Saturday’s $129,794 Altoona Derby.

Apollitical Mogul

“She’s running as solid as you can ask a horse to run,” Olmstead said. The filly has finished on the board, winning six times, in nine of 10 starts in 2019.

He has three runners in this 400 yard race. Packer qualified aboard both Apollitical Mogul and Minnesota-bred Jess Doin Time, and chose to ride the former Saturday.

“Apollitical Mogul has looked strong winning three straight here, one over a muddy track, and weather could be a factor this weekend,” Hernandez said.

Jess Doin Time, had trouble in her qualifying effort. “She stumbled, but got lined out and still managed to qualify,” Olmstead said.  Shepherd has the call on the Minnesota Quarter Horse Derby winner.

The Grade 3 Valley Junction Futurity closes out the night and Olmstead should have something to say about the results as he qualified four to the richest race.

“All of his horses in the $219,894 Valley Junction Futurity have run well here this season,” said Hernandez, who has been selecting winners at a high rate.  “Five Bar Bodee might have won his trial, but there was a short delay after all the runners were loaded and Southern Sunshine beat him out of the gate.” Southern Sunshine, trained by Charette-Hill, ran the fastest time of the 10 qualified. Her go-to pilot Jorge Torres is aboard.

“Bodee is doing well,” Olmstead said of the 2-year-old gelding that has won three of six starts with two seconds and $108,218 in purse earnings. “He might get outrun Saturday but he’ll leave there and give it all he has.”

Turf Paradise Has Much To Offer

Turf Paradise, in Phoenix, kicks off its 64th season with an eight-race program beginning at 2:55 p.m. Many Shakopee regulars winter there including perennial Turf Paradise leading trainer

Robertino Diodoro

Robertino Diodoro. He has earned the title the past six seasons and is odd-on to add another.

David Van Winkle, Jose Silva Jr., Shawn Davis, Valorie Lund, and Matt Williams will also be well represented. Jockeys include last season’s leading rider Francisco Arrieta, Chad Lindsay, Denny Velazquez, and Patrick Canchari. Canterbury Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens calls Turf Paradise home as well. He has won the riding title in Phoenix three of the past five meets and eight times total.

The meet will run 138 days through May 3 of 2020, with a Saturday through Wednesday schedule. Offering both dirt and turf racing, Turf Paradise makes for a good early week addition to the simulcast schedule.

“We’ve got a lot of horses here,” racing secretary Robbie Junk said. “We will have a very competitive meet.” Junk expects to attract nearly 200 trainers and 1,600 horses to the stable area.

Wagering on all the action is available in the Canterbury Park Racebook.

Arrieta Leaves More Than One Impression

BY JIM WELLS

There is no way around  it. Francisco Arrieta could win every race of a meet and trainers might not include that astounding information until late in a conversation.

And it’s his own fault.

He’s a heck of a person, a great guy, true to his word, diligent, honorable, trustworthy and a bonafide family man.

There is more.

He’s a humble, considerate, grateful human being.

With good reason.

Arrieta is a native of Venezuela who arrived in the United States simply looking for an opportunity to improve his life and those of his wife and, now, three daughters.

“I probably gave him three or four mounts last year and he stayed in touch with me all winter,” said trainer Larry Donlin.

“He’ll show up in the morning to gallop horses and you might not even expect him to,” another trainer said.

“He’s a great guy, very reliable and a good rider, too,” added Robertino Diodoro, for whom Arrieta had first call at Turf Paradise last winter, with dramatic results.

Not only did he basically earn another training title for Diodoro, he won the riding title for himself by riding 194 winners, 96 more than Denny Velazquez and 99 more than Scott Stevens.

Winning just short of 200 races had more than one Arizona trainer resigned to losing Arrieta to one of the bigger tracks in the country, perhaps a neighboring venue in California, something that could happen yet if he continues to ride as he has the past eight or nine months. Arieta made a quick impression at Canterbury Park this spring, winning six races nearly out of the gate.

Like many riders, Arrieta, at least for now, likes the transition from Turf Paradise, where he can spend eight months, to Shakopee for the summer meet.

A native of La Rinconada, Venezuela, Arrieta enrolled in a jockey academy when he was 16 years old and began race riding at 18. He found a way to New York where he began galloping horses in 2012, a step inside the door of racing in the United States, which had been in the back of his mind all along, if only originally in a dream state.

His foot is far inside the door now, enough so that he is planning for the family.  “We want to buy a house,” he said…for himself, his wife, Elizabeth, and daughters Franyelis, nine; Anaeily, seven; and Abigail, three months.

“That’s the next step,” he said. And the location…Arizona, Minnesota, elsewhere ?  “We haven’t decided that, yet,” he said.

What is much more certain is that the Arrieta is a rider to be reckoned with during the meet under way in Shakopee. As Diodoro says, “He’s a tremendous person, a hard worker and a very good rider.”

ANOTHER CHAMPION ON THE GROUNDS

Canterbury Park Hall of Fame rider Derek Bell is back in Shakopee galloping horses and planning to race ride, perhaps by next weekend. Bell, who won six riding titles in Shakopee, hasn’t  ridden in three years but says he is in good physical condition and needs only to ride a few races to compete in what is a strong jockey colony.

“There are a lot of good riders, very good riders here,” he said. Bell doesn’t plan to ride as frequently as he did earlier in his career, but says he would be satisfied winning 20 races this summer.

He decided to dust off his tack and return to Shakopee, he said, after talking with trainer Mac Robertson, for whom he rode during past meets at Canterbury Park.

The Oracle Provides Insight

By The Oracle

The 2019 live racing season is upon us!  Every year brings a unique excitement for the season to come, as horses arrive from all parts of the country.  The ever-challenging handicapping puzzle brings these horses together, and it’s up to us to predict what will happen once the gates open.

Here’s a look at some final statistics for the thoroughbred races run at Canterbury Park in 2018, as we prepare to unlock the 2019 Canterbury Park handicapping puzzle.  Good luck in 2019!

The Favorite

The public correctly selected the winner 36% of the time in all thoroughbred races run at Canterbury Park last year.  That is 1-percentage point below the national average for winning favorites at all racetracks in North America in 2018, and is consistent with how favorites fared at Canterbury Park in 2017.  The most formful races last year were the races for 2-year-olds, which produced winning favorites 47% of the time (15/32).  Conversely, the claiming races proved to be elusive to the betting public last year, as only 32% of the favorites prevailed.

The Odds

Last year, heavy favorites that were bet down to 7/5 odds or lower won 141 races out of 314 attempts.  That’s a 45% win rate, but it also shows that these “locks” lost more often than they won.

On the other end of the spectrum, there were 14 winners at 20-1 odds or higher last year, but nearly 1,000 runners went to post at those high odds.  Historically, Canterbury Park has not been a “longshot” paradise, and last year 78% of the thoroughbred races were won by horses at odds below 6-1.

The Jockeys

Ry Eikleberry and Orlando Mojica battled it out for the riding title last year, with Eikleberry prevailing 87 to 79.

Despite the win total, Eikleberry was not a profitable jockey to wager blindly on last year, as his mounts only returned $0.70 on the dollar.  He was solid with favorites though, (42% winners) and he showed a flat bet profit in dirt routes with a 27% win rate and an ROI of $1.05 for every dollar wagered.

Orlando Mojica had a slightly better ROI of $0.78 with his mounts.  His most profitable category was in turf sprints (<1 mile) where he won 25% of the time with a positive ROI of $1.26 for every dollar wagered.

Neither Eikleberry nor Mojica were known as longshot riders last year.  Combined, they were 5 for 190 with an ROI hovering around $0.30 on the dollar.

The Trainers

McLean Robertson and Robertino Diodoro tied for the top trainer honors last year with 57 wins.  Both trainers have their strengths which tend to carry over from year to year.

Mac Robertson won with 24% of his starters last year, including 38% of the time his horses were favored.  Robertson showed a flat bet profit in turf routes, and easily beat the takeout in State-bred races and maiden special weight races.  Historically, Robertson has not been one to win with longshots at Canterbury Park, as he was only 4% with horses off at 8-1 and higher last year and those plays returned only $0.34 for every dollar wagered.  Robertson is also campaigning Amy’s Challenge, who was voted the Canterbury Park Horse of the Meet in 2017, and is currently one of the fastest female sprinters in the country.  Expect another strong performance by Robertson in 2019, as he looms the favorite to repeat as leading trainer once again.

Robertino Diodoro won with 23% of his starters last year, but only won with 28% of his horses that went to post as the favorite.  Diodoro’s main game is claiming races and that is where he is the most dangerous.  He won with 29% of his claimers and maiden claimers last year, showing a flat bet profit in both categories.  Diodoro’s highest price winner last year was 9-1, so he is another trainer not prone to connect with longshots.  Expect him to be near the top of the trainer standings throughout the season.

Good luck playing the 2019 live racing meet at Canterbury Park!

2018’s Top Trainers: Mac Robertson and Robertino Diodoro

It had not happened before in 24 seasons of Canterbury Park racing: a tie for the leading trainer title. When the 2018 meet concluded, trainer Mac Robertson and Robertino Diodoro had each won 57 races. Mac notched his 12th title and Robertino his third.

Mac was top trainer for nine seasons from 2005 to 2013. Robertino earned the honor the next two, followed by two more for Robertson. Then came last year’s dead heat where combined, their charges won nearly $2.7 million in purses or 20 percent of the total thoroughbred purses paid during the 69-day season, while accounting for 11 percent of the total thoroughbred starters.

Expect both trainers to have full barns and well-rounded stables with horses fitting many conditions as Canterbury begins its 25th year. Robertson has for years trained many of the best Minnesota bred runners and will return with several familiar names like A P Is Loose and Hot Shot Kid.  Robertino arrives off a very successful Oaklawn Park meet and also won the Turf Paradise training title. Both will be involved in the 2019 leading trainer conversation.

Showdown on Tap for Training Title

BY JIM WELLS

Top this if you can.

Robertino Diordoro, trailing Mac Robertson by three wins for the trainer’s title, saddled five winners Friday night and has a 55-54 advantage heading into the final day of racing.

Robertson, meanwhile, saddled one winner on the card to set up what promises to be a shootout for the championship.

Diodoro capped off his hot streak with victories in the $50,000 John Bullit Stakes a mile and 1/16th and then, in one of the most exciting races of the season, the $50,000 Tom Metzen HBPA Sprint at six furlongs.

Orlando Mojica rode Patriots Rule in the John Bullit, and Leslie Mawing had the mount on Bourbon Cowboy in the Tom Metzen, edging favored Hot Shot Kid by a head.

Today’s showdown should be a classic. Robertson has 16 horses entered in 10 races; Diodoro has nine in eight races.

The race for leading owner is a dead heat heading into the final card, between Joe Novogratz and Charles Garvey.

 

      MEET COMES TO CLOSE

The passage of time is a slippery item to get a handle on; the hours slide by quietly, often without notice.

As they did for numerous horsemen who considered Friday night that another meet is at its end, another segment of their lives is over, so on to the next.

The meet, scheduled for 70 days of racing but reduced to 69 with a weather cancellation, ends Saturday with a 14-race card.

“This one seemed really fast,” said trainer Troy Bethke. “It went spinning by.”

Fellow conditioner Bernell Rhone couldn’t have agreed more.

“Where did it go,” he said. “Where did it go.”

Time, of course, is always a factor at the race course, where horsemen are constantly in use of stopwatches, timing this workout and that .

Friday night humidity was once again a factor, although most horsemen brushed if off; after all many of them train and compete at southern racetracks, so Minnesota humidity at its worse can’t always match up to what transpires elsewhere.

“I’m just getting acclimated is all,” said Rhone, who will head next to Florida where he will compete during the coming months.

Still, there is much to be determined Saturday concerning races for leading rider, leading trainer and leading owner.

Perennial training champ Mac Robertson will empty the barn today in pursuit of another title, leading Robertino Diodoro by a single win.

For all intents and purposes, Ry Eikleberry has the riding title locked up, leading Orlando Mojica by eight wins.

 OLIVER COMES DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAIN

Doug Oliver, a three-time training champion at Canterbury, is in Shakopee this weekend to watch a horse in which he has an interest run in the $75,000  Shakopee Juvenile Saturday

The horse is trained by his niece, Kim Oliver, and will be ridden by Scott Stevens.

Oliver is retired, for an intents and purposes, but still saddles a few now and then. He has been camping in the Colorado mountains with his son, Brian, and will return to Phoenix for the meet at Turf Paradise in October.

Canterbury Park Live Racing Season Concludes Friday and Saturday

Purses and handle reach record numbers

Canterbury Park’s 2018 live racing season concludes with 13 races Friday and 14 on Saturday. In all, 318 horses have been entered for the final two days where more than $660,000 in purses will be awarded, bringing total purse disbursement during the 70-day season to record heights of more than $15.2 million, an average of approximately $220,000 per day.

Total handle, the amount of money bet on each live program, will also reach a new high. Through last Saturday, nearly $45 million, including on and off track dollars, has been wagered on Canterbury’s races, a jump of 9.4 percent compared to last season.

“We have had a very good summer of racing with solid attendance and wagering,” Canterbury President Randy Sampson said. “The month of May was difficult due to weather but we quickly hit our stride and made great gains in June, July, August, and September. We will conclude the meet with an exceptional two days of racing.”

Increases in purse payments is a direct result of a 2012 cooperative purse enhancement and marketing agreement between Canterbury and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community which owns and operates Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, located just three miles south of the racetrack. The agreement, which calls for $75 million to be added to purses over 10 years, immediately drew the attention of racehorse owners and bolstered the state breeding program.

The increase in the quality of racing at the Shakopee, Minn. racetrack produced a rise in handle as more horseplayers took notice locally and nationally. Total handle has more than doubled since 2010, the last full racing season prior to the SMSC agreement, with revenues from the increased wagering also helping to grow purses.

“Our partnership with SMSC has been tremendous for the racing industry in Minnesota,” Sampson said. “Racing and breeding in the state can be done with confidence.”

Friday’s program begins at 5:00 p.m. and Saturday’s at 12:45 p.m. General admission is $7 for adults. Children 17 and younger are admitted free. Additional information is available at www.canterburypark.com .

Jockey Ry Eikleberry, with 83 victories, enters the final weekend with a 10-win lead over Orlando Mojica. Eikleberry last won the riding title in 2014.

Mac Robertson, who has won 11 training titles at Canterbury, leads Robertino Diodoro by three wins, 53 to 50. Robertson has entered 29 horses for the final two days while Diodoro, who has twice been top trainer, has 28.

Trainer, Owner Races Nip and Tuck

BY JIM WELLS

The autumnal atmosphere that settled over Shakopee on Saturday hinted at a variety of things immediately ahead, none more pressing to the riders and horsemen than closing day.

There are travel plans to be completed, respites to be taken and, for some, immediate hookups with trainers and agents where needed after the Canterbury meet concludes with cards next Friday and Saturday.

Without fear of overstatement, we can say this: It is impossible to surpass the weather that greeted race-goers on Saturday, the best of the entire meet.

How does 72 degrees, a 16 mph breeze and 39 percent humidity grab you !

It grabbed the riders, the grooms, the valets and the trainers just fine, and several small-time dramas began their final scenes under those conditions. Trainer, rider and owner championships are still on the line.

The race for leading rider is probably settled, but don’t tell Orlando Mojica, who began the day trailing Ry Eikleberry for the lead by 11 wins.

That story-line picked up an additional layer in the first race when Mojica won aboard Jonny’s Choice but then was taken down because his whip struck the second-place horse, ridden by _ yup _ Eikleberry.

Mojica shook his head afterward, saying that in his entire career _ 19 years _ he had never before been taken down for such an infraction.

“I guess there’s a first time for everything,” he said.

In the very next race, Mojica took Jack Mormon gate to wire to erase that earlier mistake, yet…had he kept better control of his whip, Eikleberry’s lead at the juncture would have been nine, and suddenly we would have had the start of a conversation, particularly because Mojica also rode the winner of the third race, Star of Kobol.

The trainer’s race is offering much more drama, with Mac Robertson starting the day with a two-win lead over Robertino Diodoro.

Diodoro would have had wins in two of the first three races, but it was his horse, Jonny’s Choice, that was taken down in the opener. Robertson put his lead back at two with a win from First Hunter in race four and increased it to three when Jareth Loveberry brought in Hurricane Force in race six.

Eikleberry’s itinerary will keep him busy in the days following the Canterbury meet. There is first a trip to Hot Springs, Ark., for his sister-in-law’s marriage. Immediately after Jenna Joubert’s marriage to Terry Thompson, he will depart for Zia Race Track and begin working horses upon his arrival.

LEADING OWNERS

The race for leading owner will come down to the final day as well.  Joe Novogratz began the day with 14 wins, one more than Miguel Silva and two ahead of Charles Garvey.

Garvey lost a win when his Jonny’s Choice was taken down but picked one up with Star of Kobol in race three, as did Silva with Gabo in race five, to move into a tie for second place.

A FINAL WORD ON WEATHER

There is surely something unfair about the best weather of the entire meeting being analyzed in some quarters as a harbinger of unpleasant things to come, yet that is exactly how Minnesota pessimists consider it. Instead of basking in the most glorious weather of year, they think, instead, of what it precedes. “Yeah, we all know what comes next,” the perpetual grouches respond.

If anyone projected beyond Saturday’s 72 degrees, 16 mph breeze and 38 percent humidity, he should be rounded up, drawn and quartered and his severed limbs sent to the far corners of the country, just as those of Mel Gibson once were.

22nd Annual Dog Days Handicapping Contest & more….

The 22nd annual Dog Days of Summer Handicapping Tournament takes place this Saturday and Sunday. The event dates back to the 90s before handicapping contests were as popular as they have become today.  Dog Days is perhaps the first, but most certainly the longest running, live bankroll contest in the country.

In the early years, cash was the main prize. One year the winner received entry to the old World Series of Handicapping at Penn National, at the time one of the most prestigious contests going.  The National Horseplayers Championship , sponsored by the NTRA, came along soon after that and since then the coveted NHC seats have been the prize to the top two Dog Days players. A couple of years ago, a $10,000 entry to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge was added to the winning prize.

Here are the details:

$650 Entry of which:

$150 is Entry Fee

$100 to prize pool

$400 for Live Bankroll betting

First prize: $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) entry AND National Horseplayers Championship (NHC*) entry plus 15% of prize pool.

Second prize: NHC* entry plus 35% of prize pool.
*To be eligible to win an NHC berth, entrants must be NHC Tour members. NHC membership is $50

Third: 25% of prize pool

Fourth: 17.5% of prize pool

Fifth: 7.5% of prize pool

The contest rules allow entrants to wager, using the $400 bankroll, on any track and pool offered throughout the day on Saturday. On Sunday, the same rules apply but the contest ends around 5:30 or 6pm. Each entrant must wager at least $200 each day.

The entrants with the largest bankrolls at the conclusion win the prizes.

Here are the complete rules.

On Friday, handicappers also have a chance to win one of two NHC entries via the Ultimate NHC Qualifier.  Entry fee is $500 of which 4400 is live bankroll.  In use is the Ultimate Format where entrants wager at least half of the bankroll in each of six mandatory Canterbury races. All the details can be found here.

Odds and Ends

With just four days of racing remaining, the battle for top thoroughbred trainer could not be any more intense. Mac Robertson, who leads by one with 49, erased a six-win deficit over four days of racing and passed Robertino Diodoro. Both are firing with quality horses the next two days.

The owner title is up for grabs as well. Novogratz Racing Stables, who employs Robertson, has 14 wins. Silva Racing and trainer Miguel Silva has 13. Diodoro trains for Charles Garvey who has 12 wins. One more back are the Butzows.

Orlando Mojica would need to really tear it up to catch Ry Eikleberry in the jockey standings. Ry is 10 in front and would have to go ice cold not to hang on.

Nominations to the four stakes on closing weekend, Sept. 14 and 15, can be found here.

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Jason and Angela Bullard Have Built a Real Racing Empire

By Rebecca Roush

A lot has changed for racehorse owners Jason and Angela Bullard over the past few years, both with their growing business and their hobby. This husband and wife duo met as children when their parents would take them to La Mesa Park in Raton, New Mexico.

“Since both of us were 9 or 10 years old, we’ve been going out to the race track all the time with family,” Jason said.

After moving to Shakopee years ago they continued to visit the racetrack, now Canterbury Park, with their friends and family. This prompted them to purchase their first horse in 2013 and race under the stable name Empire Racing.

The Bullards now have nine horses in training at Canterbury Park and two at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Illinois. “We have learned a lot in the last six years and have steadily grown in numbers and in quality,” said Jason.

Though they enjoy seeing their horses win, the couple also appreciates the experience of race days. “Coming to the track with friends and family, going to the paddock, and finishing it all up with a winner’s circle photo never gets old,” said Jason.

One piece of advice that the Bullards offer to someone thinking about horse ownership is to “do your homework.” Jason explains that “it is not about what you know, it is who you know. Finding the right team can be a great family experience.” The Bullards have worked with trainer Bernell Rhone since 2013 and have found great success with him as well as Robertino Diodoro and with other owners in partnerships.

The most difficult aspect that Jason says they face is “the emotional highs and lows. One night you have a horse win and the next your horse runs last.” It is this experience that he says makes them second guess their plan of action on occasion.

When the Bullards are not at the racetrack they balance their time between operating their business, Nite Trane Transportation, which offers limousine, party bus, and airport transportation in the Twin Cities, and spending time at the lake with their three children.

Diodoro Chose Horses Over Hockey

BY JIM WELLS

Robertino Diodoro departed for Saratoga on Sunday to survey his stable there for a few days, leaving the barn at Canterbury Park to his assistants and crew, an assembly he routinely applauds as the most vital element of the team.

“Without them, none of this is possible,” he said. Diodoro rarely speaks about his horses without mentioning the crew, particularly as he thinks about an approaching and defining mark in his career. And the two owners, Randy Howg and Rick Wiest, farmers from Encant, Alberta, who have been with him for more than 20 years.

In the back of his mind as he prepared to leave for New York_   saying he doesn’t think about it would be a lie, he says _ was a fast approaching milestone. He left Shakopee just eight wins short of 2,000 for his career, having reached the first 1,000 four years ago at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.

“The second thousand has come a lot faster than the first,” he said. “Kind of hard to believe.”

He took a few moments before coming up with the name of winner No. 1000. “Scott Stevens rode him, at Turf Paradise,” he said. “I remember now, it was 2014 and the name of the horse was Tribal Teak.”

Diodoro has been training for 25 years. If he hadn’t gravitated to horse racing, he might have played hockey. He played the sport throughout his youth, and at the Junior A level, in Canada  but seemed already inclined toward horse racing.

“I always said I was going into horses or hockey,” he recalled. “Hockey and horses seemed to be my life.” He was a goalie, but his skating ability was good enough that he could have manned a spot out front.  “People always told me that I could skate well enough to not play goalie. ”

Born and raised in Calgary, Diodoro naturally grew up a Flames fan and played hockey himself from age five until he turned 21. Yet, he had been conditioned for horses and racing by his maternal grandfather, his mother Linda’s father, Jim Dorman.

“He never had more than two or three horses and my dad helped out at the barn,” Diodoro said. “He was always the first one there in the morning.”

His father, Tino, would arrive at 4:30 a.m. daily, setting the mold for what it would take if Robertino wanted to make it in the racing industry.

Diodoro’s first horse was a gift from his grandfather and the hook was set. “It took off from there. At first I couldn’t get or afford help. I was on my own,” he said.

He got his trainer’s license at age 19, and began racing at bush tracks. “I started from the very bottom up,” he said.  Although he saddled winners at some of those locations, his first recognized winner was at Northlands Park in Alberta, a horse named Manchu Prince. He was 20 years old.

Training champions were recognized then for their total number of wins at the three Alberta locations: Northlands, Stampede Park and the now defunct Trout Springs. The learning curve was underway.

“The first time I was the leading trainer in Alberta,” Diodoro recalled, “I wasn’t in the top 10 for money. I had a lot of cheap horses.”

Now 44, Diodoro is operating three stables this summer, Canterbury, Evangeline Downs and Saratoga, with some 130 horses.

Champion trainer at Canterbury in 2014 and 2015, Diodoro annually rules at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, where he has won multiple training championships with dominating efforts the last five years. And he left Shakopee on Sunday with a three-win lead over Canterbury’s perennial training champ, Mac Robertson.

Diodoro was introduced to the notion of Phoenix racing when his parents returned after respites there with stories about the amiable winter climate and Turf Paradise, where he has trained for the last 12 years. Phoenix, New York, Louisiana or Minnesota it is an all encompassing daily routine.

“It completely consumes your mind,” he said. “I’m on the phone, looking up horses, buying horses. It’s constant.”

He celebrated his first 1,000 wins at Turf Paradise. He wants win no. 2,000 to come at Canterbury Park. The memories of how it started for him and the people involved seem to accompany the arrival of milestones, as they are for this one.

Frequently, he is approached by someone, or someone texts him with a message, particularly when he races in Canada “Too bad your grandfather isn’t still around to see this. He would be so proud.”

Milestones include such recollections, such connections to the past, to horses and, in many cases, to family.

Primarily, though, it’s the crew. “I always say,” Diodoro added, “that a leading trainer is really a leading team.”

The team that includes two farmers from Encant, who have stayed with him for more than two decades.