PHOENIX – Horse training is in the blood that runs through Robert Diodoro’s veins. He describes it as a “disease” and cannot recall a time when horses weren’t a part of his life.
Diodoro’s grandfather was a horse trainer and spent a great portion of his life at the racetrack. As a young boy, Diodoro remembers running around the barn area in hopes of being allowed to ride a stable pony horse.
Today, with over 20 years of experience in training horses to compete at the most elite level, Diodoro looks to become the all-time winningest trainer at the Turf Paradise racetrack. His successes include having an entrant just four years ago in the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile, which runs today as part of the two-day racing event in Del Mar, California.
Turf Paradise opened its 62nd season on Oct. 14. Diodoro entered the season with 418 career victories and is on a pace to catch Richard Hazelton, who has 462.
“One person brought it to my attention before the meet started,” Diodoro said. “That’s exciting, especially since Phoenix is home for me now.”
Diodoro will also be seeking his fifth consecutive trainer’s title.
Now training in Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, California and Arkansas, Diodoro was ranked fourth by wins and 20th by earnings in 2016. That amount of success is not easily attained.
Training horses demands an extreme amount of dedication and time to care for the animals.
“There’s no such thing as weekends off,” Diodoro said.
Similar to coaching, to maintain a level of excellence, Diodoro’s lifestyle is tailored around his “athletes.”
“Seven days a week, the alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m.,” Diodoro said. “We go in spurts because we train the horses in the morning so we’re done at 10 or 11 a.m. The guys go home to have lunch and they’re back from 3 to 5 p.m. Then sometimes we have night race. It’s a different lifestyle.”
Horse training encompasses multiple dimensions. Diodoro, however, believes three different aspects are essential for success: good clients, good horses and good help.
Diodoro emphasizes the importance of good help, especially with a stable as large as his with over 60 horses.
“If you don’t have those three it’s a pretty tough game,” Diodoro said. “It’s a tough game at the best of times.”
Diodoro’s passion is driven by his inherent love for horses. He acknowledges to be successful “competitiveness” must be within you, but a love for horses is where it all begins.
Growing up in Canada, Diodoro was a hockey player familiar with the excitement that comes from winning. Competing, and ultimately winning, is an unparalleled reward of training, he said.
“I always say it doesn’t matter if it’s a $3,000 race at Turf Paradise or a $500,000 race at Arkansas or wherever we race,” Diodoro said. “I always say a guy can be in the worst mood and be having the worst day ever, you come into the race, win a race and ‘poof,’ it just picks it back up.”
The highlight of Diodoro’s training career came in April at Oaklawn Park Race Track in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Inside Straight, a 4-year-old New York-bred horse, pulled away in the deep stretch of the Oaklawn Handicap to upset the heavy favorite, Midnight Storm.
This victory was significant, not only because it was the biggest victory in Diodoro’s career, resulting in $750,000 of earnings, but also because the owner of the horse is one of his close friends.
“Randy Howg, has been a friend and a client from day one,” Diodoro said. “So 23 years, I’ve trained for him.”
After 23 years as a horse trainer, Diodoro is unable to fathom how many horses he has trained. That number, whatever it may be, is certainly a large one. Horses are constantly entering and leaving Diodoro’s stable. It can be difficult to not get attached, especially to a successful horse.
“You always like a winner,” Diodoro said. “One of our best horses right now is Chief Know It All. We claimed him, we ran him twice and he won two derbies for us in two starts. Of course, now he’s one of our favorites and we’re attached to him. He wins the two biggest races we’ve won in a while and he’s just like a little pet on top of it, so it’s hard not to get attached.”
Over the last four years at Turf Paradise, Diodoro and his horses have averaged 104 wins per meet. This year Diodoro looks forward to competing with his stable, which boasts 62 horses set to compete in the various races.