Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the 147thKentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 1 at Churchill Downs.
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Trainer Robertino Diodoro, 46, who oversees highly-regarded Keepmeinmind, is featured this week. He thought so highly of the bay son of Laoban that he sent the youngster into the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in only his second start. His faith was rewarded when Keepmeinmind placed second.
Keepmeinmind went on to take third in the $2 million TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, and then broke his maiden in style, capturing the Nov. 28 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm recently acquired a 50 percent interest in the colt, partnering with Cypress Creek LLC and Arnold Bennewith.
Keepmeinmind is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in the $750,000, Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. The prep race has twice been postponed due to record-breaking winter weather at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., and is now scheduled for Feb. 27. The 1 1/16-mile Southwest will offer Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
Keepmeinmind already is well on his way to the run for the roses. He ranks fifth with 18 Derby qualifying points, 34 points behind Mandaloun, who leads the list with 52 after winning the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, and 12 points behind 2-year-old champion and expected Southwest Stakes rival Essential Quality, who ranks second with 30 points.
PEDULLA: How many horses do you have in training?
DIODORO: Roughly 100.
PEDULLA: How widespread is your operation?
DIODORO: At this time of year, we have a small string at Turf Paradise and then Sam Houston Race Park and Oaklawn. In the summer, we go to Canterbury Park, Churchill Downs, Lone Star Park and then Saratoga.
PEDULLA: What are the advantages to that?
DIODORO: Finding the right spot for a horse. So many times you go to a track with a horse and you can’t get him in (for a specific race) or you can’t find the right spot or the horse isn’t competitive. If you go to other venues, there is always a spot for the horse.
PEDULLA: You won your first Oaklawn training title last year. What did that mean to you?
DIODORO: It was a big accomplishment. It was definitely a team effort. I always say I am only one person. Hats off to the whole crew. It wasn’t easy, but we got it done.
PEDULLA: Between that and Keepmeinmind, is it elevating your stock?
DIODORO: Definitely. Maybe our numbers are a little bit low now compared to previous years, but we’ve got some better horses and new owners in the barn who are going to develop the stable and help it get to the next level with some more stakes horses and Derby horses and stuff like that.
PEDULLA: You put Keepmeinmind in a Grade 1 race for his second start. What led you to be so confident?
DIODORO: It was a combination of a few things. Mentally, he had some growing up to do. But he was a big, mature-looking 2-year-old. Each work got better and better, including up to this day.
PEDULLA: How is he training now?
DIODORO: We need to get one more work in him, but we couldn’t be happier with how he’s training.
PEDULLA: What is Keepmeinmind’s greatest strength?
DIODORO: Two things. One, I think he’ll run all day. And two, how laid-back he is. He is a nice laid-back 3-year-old.
PEDULLA: Is there much difference in him between 2 and 3?
DIODORO: Not physically. Mentally, yes. He is a bit more laid back and he’s matured quite a bit mentally.
PEDULLA: Are there any weaknesses you are working on?
DIODORO: To be honest, our main goal every day is to keep him healthy and happy.
PEDULLA: David Cohen is your go-to rider. What does he mean to your success and to that of Keepmeinmind?
DIODORO: He is a big part of the team. The relationship I have with him, he’s definitely a big help with input on the horses. He’s a team guy and he’s a big part of our team.
PEDULLA: Any idea what your second Derby prep might be?
DIODORO: No. One day at a time. One step at a time. Keep him healthy and happy. I keep saying it until I’m blue in the face.
PEDULLA: What would it mean to you to reach the Derby with Keepmeinmind?
DIODORO: It’s been a goal for our whole team for quite a while. It would definitely mean a lot, that’s for sure. I think our team deserves it. Hopefully, it will all work out.
PEDULLA: Do you allow yourself to dream about competing in the Derby and what winning that race might feel like?
DIODORO: I think every trainer does.