Diodoro Reaches 50 Wins at Oaklawn

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, jhoyt@oaklawn.com or (501) 363-4305

Saturday, April 08, 2023

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

Diodoro Reaches 50 Wins at Oaklawn

Robertino Diodoro became just the third trainer to reach 50 victories multiple times at an Oaklawn meeting when favored Great Escape won Friday’s ninth race, a $106,000 allowance for older horses at 1 mile.

Great Escape ($6.40) represented the meet-high 50th victory for Diodoro, who is seeking his second career Oaklawn training title. He won 51 races in 2020 to lead the Oaklawn standings for the first time.

“It’s been a good meet,” Diodoro said Friday morning. “I think the most important part is the end. Let’s finish strong. I think that’s what everybody remembers the most.”

Diodoro joined the late Cole Norman and Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen as the only trainers to have multiple 50-victory seasons at Oaklawn. Norman won 71 races, a single-season Oaklawn record, in 2003, 56 races in 2004 and 62 races in 2005. Asmussen won 64 races in 2019, 60 races in 2021 and 65 races in 2021-2022. David Vance is the only other trainer in Oaklawn history with 50 victories in a season. Vance won 50 races during the 50-day meeting in 1974, which marked his third of four Oaklawn training titles. Norman won six consecutive Oaklawn training titles (2001-2006).

Diodoro entered Saturday, Day 56 of the scheduled 68-day Oaklawn meeting, with a comfortable lead in the standings. Diodoro (50 victories) topped Asmussen (37) and Chris Hartman (34). Asmussen has collected a record 12 Oaklawn training titles, while Hartman was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2015.

“I think we’ve still got a lot of decent horses to run,” Diodoro said. “We’ve just got to get a little lucky at the entry box and get a little racing luck and, hopefully, we can finish strong.”

The Canadian-born Diodoro started his first horse at Oaklawn in 2015 and made an immediate impact in the standings. He won 9 of 33 starts, highlighted by his first local stakes victory with the swift Subtle Indian in the $100,000 Gazebo for 3-year-old sprinters. Diodoro won 22 races in 2016 and has finished first or second in the standings at every Oaklawn meeting since 2017.

Diodoro ($2,415,281 through Friday) has already established a single-season Oaklawn personal best for purse earnings. Diodoro (329) ranked as the 11th-winningest trainer in Oaklawn history through Friday.

Torres on the Move

After winning his first career riding title in December at Remington Park, Cristian Torres has ridden that momentum to a memorable 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting, leading all jockeys, through Friday, in victories (79), purse earnings ($4,882,926) and stakes victories (six).

That success has led Torres, 25, to take a different path this spring and summer. Torres said Friday morning that he will be based at Churchill Downs after the Oaklawn meeting ends May 6.

Torres was originally scheduled to return this summer to Lone Star Park, but said in early March that he was considering a circuit change after his meteoric career rise the last 8 ½ months, triggered by the hiring of retired trainer Cody Autrey as his agent and, subsequently, riding first call for Robertino Diodoro and Karl Broberg, two of the winningest trainers in North American history.

“Everything is going so good right now,” Torres said. “Cody and I were talking and we’ve got to take advantage of the momentum. I think it’s the right time to make a move. Hopefully, it works out.”

Churchill Downs’ spring meeting begins April 29 and Torres said he plans to ride there May 2 and May 3 before returning to Oaklawn for its final three days (May 4-6).

“We don’t anticipate missing any days here,” Torres said. “We don’t want to miss any days here.”

Diodoro races at Churchill Downs and Torres has been cultivating new Kentucky-based clients the last few weeks at Oaklawn, namely trainers Kenny McPeek and Cherie DeVaux. Torres rode three horses Friday for McPeek and was aboard DeVaux’s first career Oaklawn winner, Shotgun Hottie, in a $105,000 allowance race March 12. Torres also rode the DeVaux-trained Cagliostro in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) March 25 at Fair Grounds.

“We’re working our way in with Kenny McPeek,” Torres said. “He’s going to help us out over there. We know he’s got his rider over there (Brian Hernandez Jr.), but he actually talked to Cody and said he would help us out over there. I think we’re going to have a chance to ride for Cherie DeVaux, too. We’re building a good relationship with her and her husband (noted bloodstock agent/owner David Ingordo), too. So hopefully, when we get to Kentucky, we can have a chance to keep riding for her.”

Torres began riding at Oaklawn in 2021, brought to the Midwest by his then-agent Ruben Munoz, after beginning his career in the spring of 2019 at Gulfstream Park. Torres rode 22 winners at the 2021 Oaklawn meeting and 19 during an injury-shortened 2021-2022 meeting. Torres entered Saturday with 120 career victories at Oaklawn and 498 overall, according to Equibase, racing's official data gathering organization.

A native of Puerto Rico, Torres rode his first career winner April 21, 2019, at Gulfstream Park and recorded his biggest career victory to date aboard Last Samurai in the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) Feb. 18 at Oaklawn. Last Samurai, who is trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, is pointing for the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 22.

“Actually, yesterday was my anniversary to begin riding,” Torres said. “This is my fourth year. I rode my first race April 6, 2019. It’s been a great four years. I’ve been blessed the last four years and hope to keep the momentum going and hope for a good meeting in Kentucky.”

Keith Asmussen Finding His Groove

The ride is becoming smoother for jockey Keith Asmussen, who resumed his career last fall after earning a master’s degree in professional accounting earlier in 2022 from the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business.

After a slow start at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting that began Dec. 9, Asmussen has climbed the standings in recent weeks and enters Friday tied for ninth with 14 victories. Back strongly by his father, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Keith Asmussen has eight victories over the last 15 racing days, highlighted by his first career riding triple March 19.

“Feels like I’m getting exponentially better,” Asmussen, 24, said moments after winning the March 25 nightcap aboard Ryvit for Steve Asmussen. “It’s trying not to change too many things at once. But just like small, incremental changes that I feel are benefiting me and I think they’re adding up. It does seem to be making a difference.”

Keith Asmussen notched his first career Oaklawn victory, and eighth overall, Jan. 14 aboard Papa Rocket ($12.40) for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Asmussen reunited with Papa Rocket ($7) for another victory, March 17. Two days later, Asmussen recorded a triple, winning the first race aboard Mendelssohn Joy ($11.40) for Nevada Litfin – the jockey’s first for a non-Hall of Fame trainer – fourth race aboard Tribal Spirit ($6.40) and the sixth race aboard Allege ($9.80). Asmussen’s final two victories were for his father.

“He’s riding very good races,” said Steve Asmussen, a former jockey who has collected a record 12 Oaklawn training titles. “I love to see that. You want to do well and he’s your kid and all that, but I’m impressed with the trips he’s giving them.”

Father and son teamed again to win last Sunday’s sixth race with Lamutanaatty ($12.80). It was marked Keith Asmussen’s 21st career victory and the 857th overall at Oaklawn for his famous father.

Steve Asmussen became the first trainer to reach 10,000 career North American victories when Bet He’s Ready captured the fifth race Feb. 20 at Oaklawn under Ricardo Santana Jr. Keith Asmussen was aboard Carpe Horseshoe ($6.60) for No. 10,003 Feb. 24 at Oaklawn. With 14 days remaining in the 2022-2023 meeting, Steve Asmussen is poised to surpass the late Bob Holthus (867) as Oaklawn’s all-time winningest trainer.

“Sure hope so,” Keith Asmussen said, when asked about making history with his father. “I was definitely praying for that 10K.”

Asmussen, who doesn’t compete with an apprentice weight allowance because of his 5-10 frame, said he will ride at Lone Star Park, minutes from his suburban Dallas home, after the Oaklawn meeting ends May 6. He could head to Texas as a Top 10 rider at Oaklawn.

“When I first started, I was just so grateful for it,” said Asmussen, who surpassed $1 million in career purse earnings last Sunday. “I feel like I wake up having an attitude check. It was trying not to take any of these days for granted because I do feel incredibly blessed to be able to do this.”

Asmussen made his riding debut June 15, 2020, at Lone Star Park and recorded his first career victory there July 26, 2020, aboard the Steve Asmussen-trained Inis Gluaire. It was the jockey’s 19th career mount. After graduating from Texas, Asmussen began galloping horses at Lone Star Park and followed his father to Saratoga, then Kentucky, before he resumed riding Oct. 27 at Keeneland. Asmussen had 14 mounts last year, highlighted by a neck victory aboard Tonal Impact for his father Nov. 23 at Churchill Downs. The jockey’s first six victories, all for his father, came in 2020 (five at Lone Star Park and one at Remington Park).

Finish Lines

There is no live racing Sunday at Oaklawn in observance of Easter. … Trainer Chris Hartman matched his single-season Oaklawn career high for victories (34) when unbeaten Dark Afternoon ($5.80) won Friday’s fourth race under Nik Juarez. Hartman won 34 races in 2015 when he captured his first Oaklawn training title. … Hartman said Klassy Bridgette, the first three-time winner at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, is under consideration for the inaugural $150,000 Valley of the Vapors Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 mile April 22. … Condensation, fourth in the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles last Saturday at Oaklawn, is a candidate for the Valley of the Vapors and the $500,000 Eight Belles Stakes (G2) May 5 at Churchill Downs, Hartman said. The Eight Belles is for 3-year-old fillies at 7 furlongs.