Anybody else might have been tempted to linger at Del Mar, the picturesque gem of a racetrack that sits alongside the Pacific Ocean near San Diego. When Robertino Diodoro traveled there earlier this week, to move his California-based thoroughbreds to Del Mar from Santa Anita, he couldn’t wait to get back to Minnesota.
His impatience wasn’t all that surprising, given Diodoro’s success at Canterbury Park this summer. Through the first 31 days of the track’s 69-day season, the Canadian-born trainer has won 21 races, leaving him tied atop the standings with perennial training champ Mac Robertson. Diodoro has a marquee event in his sights Saturday, when he will saddle Broadway Empire — his stable’s star — for the $100,000 Mystic Lake Mile, the second-richest thoroughbred race of the Canterbury season.
In his Canterbury debut last year, Diodoro, 40, won seven races and finished 27th in the trainer’s standings with a 20-horse string managed by an assistant. He made Canterbury his home base this summer and brought more than 50 of his better horses, putting him in contention for a training title at a track he has quickly come to love.
“Things are going well,’’ said Diodoro, who also has 31 horses at Del Mar and 20 at Alberta’s Northlands Park. “Last year, I didn’t really get a chance to enjoy Canterbury. But I was really impressed with the people and the atmosphere, and I really like it there.’’
Diodoro stayed with a 40-horse string at Northlands Park last summer and was chagrined by the poor showing of his Canterbury stable. This season, he rented a house in Eden Prairie and brought his entire crew from Turf Paradise in Phoenix, where he won the training title last season with 128 victories and a win percentage of 31 percent.
A third-generation trainer, Diodoro grew up in Calgary and began training alongside his father and grandfather. His first career victory came at Northlands Park, and he has continued racing in Canada while also running in California. The increasing purses at Canterbury convinced him to add Shakopee to his summer schedule.
Diodoro reached the 1,000-victory mark last spring, and Broadway Empire has taken him to new heights by running in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last fall and the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park in June. The 4-year-old gelding could give him his first Canterbury stakes victory in the Mystic Lake Mile. Coming off a solid sixth place in the Met Mile, Broadway Empire will make his turf debut and is the second choice on the morning line in the field of eight.
“We laid off him a little bit after (the Met Mile), then worked him on the grass once,’’ Diodoro said. “It was a pretty impressive work. I’m really excited to see him run on grass.’’
Diodoro said the son of Empire Maker is well-bred for the turf, and he expects him to take well to the softer surface. The favorite in the Mystic Lake Mile is the Steve Asmussen-trained Jimmy Simms, who has won four of five starts this season — including the Brooks Fields Stakes at Canterbury on June 7.
There is plenty of racing yet this season, as Diodoro tries to break Robertson’s streak of nine consecutive training titles. Still, Diodoro already is thinking ahead to his future at Canterbury.
“I need to get some Minnesota-breds, because I don’t have a single one,’’ he said. “I definitely plan on making this my home in the summer.’’