(Bal Harbour wins the Tinsel Stakes for trainer Robertino Diodoro / Coady Photography)

From the Oaklawn Park Media Team / Robert Yates:

Diodoro Nearing the 3,000 Win Milestone

Trainer Robertino Diodoro’s drive toward 3,000 career victories continued Saturday at Oaklawn. The theme was more of the same – claimed older horses climbing the class ladder in two-turn events.

Diodoro’s two victories included a front-running score by Bal Harbour, who held off Grade 2 winner Last Samurai by a neck in the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles. The Tinsel came approximately 30 minutes after Diodoro won the eighth race, a 1 1/16-mile conditioned allowance, with Disc Jockey. The purse was $104,000.

Bal Harbour ($13.60) was making his third start since Diodoro claimed him for $50,000 out of a blowout victory at 1 1/8 miles Sept. 5 at Saratoga. Disc Jockey is 3 for 3 since Diodoro claimed him for $25,000 out of a Sept. 23 victory going a mile at Los Alamitos.

Diodoro’s double came almost exactly one year after his biggest claim to fame, Lone Rock, won the Tinsel by three-quarters of a length over stablemate Thomas Shelby. After re-claiming Lone Rock for $40,000 in November 2020 at Churchill Downs, the gelding, now 7, flourished in 2021 when moved to races at much longer distances, specifically 1 ½ miles, 1 5/8 miles and 1 ¾ miles. He became a millionaire multiple Grade 2 winner.

“I just love these kind of horses, old class horses that go a distance,” Diodoro said in the Larry Snyder Winner’s Circle following Bal Harbour’s victory. “I think I get a lot of that from my grandpa and my dad because again they were small trainers, but they always, especially my grandpa, wanted a marathoner. Got to have distance.”

Diodoro also had a winner Saturday at Turf Paradise in Arizona, pushing his career North American total to 2,985, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Only 35 trainers, through Saturday, had reached 3,000 career North American victories (United States and Canada), according to Equibase. Diodoro was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2020 and has a home minutes from the track.

“I would definitely like it (3,000th victory) to be here, for sure,” Diodoro said earlier this month.

Despite losing two major clients earlier this year – four-time Oaklawn leading owner M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk) and Cypress Creek Equine – Diodoro has been surging this fall after claiming heavily, from coast-to-coast, on behalf of recent additions John Holleman and Jerry Caroom.

Diodoro and Caroom, a retired Hot Springs businessman, were 1 for 1 together at the Del Mar fall meeting and 7 for 7 at Remington Park, which closed Saturday. Caroom owns Disc Jockey, a 5-year-old son of 2012 Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister.

Holleman owns Bal Harbour and races Lovely Ride, winner of the $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes Dec. 10 at Oaklawn, in partnership. Lovely Ride represented the first Oaklawn victory for Holleman, a Little Rock, Ark., attorney who started his first horse in November 2021 at Churchill Downs.

“As a stable, we got way down on numbers, then John is getting more into the stable and into the game,” Diodoro said. “So, we’re trying to build up a stable and get John up. It was getting a little stressful, because again, the claiming game has just got so tough all over the country. To be ready for here, I was starting to sweat a little bit.”

Diodoro said Bal Harbour will be pointed to the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 18 at Oaklawn. Lone Rock finished sixth in last year’s Razorback before returning to marathon events.

Lone Rock recently resumed training in Florida, Diodoro said, and is scheduled to arrive early next month at Oaklawn. Diodoro said Lone Rock won’t resurface until later in the Oaklawn meeting and one race being targeted is the $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes April 2. Lone Rock won the 1 ½-mile Temperence Hill last season. He finished second in its inaugural running in 2021, which marked his return to stakes company.

Saturday’s victory was the seventh in 34 lifetime starts for Bal Harbour and increased his earnings to $870,880. Bal Harbour was exiting a third-place finish in the $350,000 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Stakes (G2) at 1 5/8 miles Nov. 4 at Keeneland. Lone Rock won the race in track-record time last year at Del Mar.

The Tinsel marked the fourth career stakes victory and first in more than four years for Bal Harbour. He also finished second, beaten a half-length, in the $750,000 Woodward Stakes (G1) at 1 1/8 miles in 2019 at Saratoga for future Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. Bal Harbour is by First Samurai.

“It’s easy to say now; I thought it was a good claim before the race,” Diodoro said. “I was really excited. I said to a friend of mine that the claiming game’s got so tough, that it’s few and far between when you drop a claim, I don’t care if it’s for $20,000 or $80,000, and you’re like ‘Oh, please, oh, please, because I want this horse.’ This was one of those horses and I’m not just saying that, now that it’s turned out. He was one of those horses that I was really excited to get. And then, of course, the day we claimed him, he hit a muddy track, which he loves the mud, and won by seven or eight lengths. Initially, even though it doesn’t put money in John’s pocket or mine, it makes you feel good at the time that this horse still has some run in him, right?”

Diodoro entered Sunday with six victories through the first five days of the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting and tied with Ron Moquett atop the trainer standings. Bal Harbour represented the 285th career Oaklawn victory for Diodoro, 48, who began wintering in Hot Springs in 2015. He has 12 career Oaklawn stakes victories.

Moquett recorded his 300th career Oaklawn victory Dec. 10.

A Hidden Connection?

Grade 3 winner Hidden Connection will be considered for Oaklawn’s two-turn series of stakes races for older fillies and mares in 2023, her Fair Grounds-based trainer Bret Calhoun said Saturday afternoon.

“There’s a good chance,” Calhoun said, when asked if Hidden Connection will be seen in Hot Springs.

Hidden Connection powered to a 7 ½-length allowance victory at 1 1/16 miles Friday at Fair Grounds, which marked her second start since finishing 12th in the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) last May at Churchill Downs. The 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks is the nation’s biggest prize for 3-year-old fillies.

After winning the $300,000 Pocahontas Stakes (G3) for 2-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs, Hidden Connection ran fourth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) to close her 2021 campaign. Both races were 1 1/16 miles. She also finished second, beaten a nose by champion Echo Zulu, in the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles last March at Fair Grounds.

“Obviously, (Oaklawn) has a good series of races, graded races, later on the meet,” Calhoun said. “Obviously, that’s our ultimate goal.”

Oaklawn’s signature two-turn race for older fillies and mares is the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 15. The final two major local preps leading up to the Apple Blossom are the $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 4 and the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 11. All three races are 1 1/16 miles.

Hidden Connection, by millionaire Grade 1 winner Connect, has a 3-1-1 record from eight lifetime starts and earnings of $456,625.

Calhoun was in Hot Springs Saturday to saddle Run Classic in the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes. Calhoun has 10 stalls at Oaklawn.

Finish Lines

Cristian Torres had a meet-best nine victories through the first five racing days this season at Oaklawn after winning two races Saturday. Both were for 2020 Oaklawn training champion Robertino Diodoro. Torres won the eighth race aboard Disc Jockey($8) and the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes aboard Bal Harbour ($13.60). Torres, after catching a plane, won the $100,000 Trapeze Stakes aboard favored Olivia Twist ($3.60) on Saturday night’s closing program at Remington Park. Torres, 25, won 71 races at Remington Park to capture his first career riding title. … High-percentage trainer Norm Casse recorded his second career Oaklawn double Saturday, winning the second race with Dark Timber ($8.80) and the $150,000 Poinsettia Stakes with Pretty Birdie ($10.60) for the iconic Marylou Whitney Stables. Casse has won 29 percent of his starts (7 for 24) the last two seasons at Oaklawn, with 19 of his runners finishing first, second or third. He also won the $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters last March at Oaklawn with Pretty Birdie. Casse said Pretty Birdie could make her next start in the $150,000 American Beauty Stakes for older females at 6 furlongs Jan. 21 at Oaklawn. … Jockey Rafael Bejarano and trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs teamed for two victories Saturday. They won the fourth race with Sinner’s Sin ($8.20) for Oaklawn owner Louis Cella and the 10th race with Sulwe ($8.20). … Barber Road, runner-up in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) last April at Oaklawn, finished third in his comeback in Saturday’s eighth race, a 1 1/16-mile conditioned allowance. It was his first start against older horses. … There is no live racing next weekend at Oaklawn because of Christmas. Live racing is scheduled to resume Dec. 30.