Robertino Diodoro has been training horses for 29 years, and he is set to reach a lofty aspiration this weekend: A colt he trained will be off to the races at the Kentucky Derby.
Diodoro says the annual horse race that was inaugurated in 1875 ranks with the Stanley Cup — it is the big leagues.
While the notion of competing in the renowned derby exists as a daydream for many horse trainers, it will become a reality Saturday for the former Calgarian, who now resides in Hot Springs, Ark.
And according to Diodoro, as the day approaches, both the excitement and tension are increasing.
“I keep saying it’s an honour to be here, and it’s every trainer’s dream to get here,” Diodoro told the Calgary Eyeopener from the Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Ky.
“There’s definitely a buzz, lots of media, and you can tell trainers are excited … it’s a little more tense.”
The long shot
Diodoro couldn’t tell you how many horses he has trained during his decades-long career, but the colt headed for the derby is three years old, named Keepmeinmind and racing against 50-to-1 odds.
On paper, it makes him a long shot, Diodoro said. But the colt has his trainer’s full confidence.
He believes that Keepmeinmind is a dark horse.
“He doesn’t probably deserve to be here at 50-to-1, talent-wise. He deserves to be one of the favourites,” Diodoro said.
Named after a song by the Zac Brown Band, Keepmeinmind won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November, Diodoro said, but later missed two weeks of training in Hot Springs due to poor weather.
In his last race, at the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in Lexington, the colt didn’t perform as well because of some mistakes his handlers made — they took him out of his element and had him run closer to the pace immediately.
“When the running started, he didn’t have no kick,” Diodoro said.
Some horses are front-end running horses that perform best while in the lead. Others are coming-from-behind horses, and Diodoro explained Keepmeinmind is one of them. He needs time to find his stride.
“He’s a big horse, it takes him a while to get under himself. If you just let him run this on his own, the first part of the race, get himself together. He comes with a big finish,” he said.
“But if you ask him early and get him way close to the pace … he doesn’t.”
Healthy and happy
It’s not a mistake the team around Keepmeinmind plans on making again come May 1.
And in the meantime, Diodoro said Keepmeinmind is training very well. Handlers are focused on making sure the horse is healthy and happy.
“That’s the main thing,” he said.
For now, Diodoro is excited, but he’ll be nervous soon. Lately, he makes time to feed Keepmeinmind some carrots and whisper encouragement.
He is trying to soak it all in.
“Right now, I’m just trying to enjoy it,” he said. “But I think the nerves will get by later tonight or tomorrow morning.”
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.