HOT SPRINGS -- This stakes win was meaningful in more ways than one.
Lovely Ride, trained by Robertino Diodoro, won the 40th running of the $150,000th 1 1/16-mile Pippin Stakes in 1:44.04 before an estimated crowd of 10,000 at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort on Saturday. The feature win came seven races after Diodoro reached the 3,000th training win of his career.
The Pippin winner's connections were thrilled by the win and Diodoro's lifetime landmark, and though a significant pile of money came with the former, the latter seemed to create greater joy.
"We couldn't be more happy," said Lovely Ride's partner in ownership John Holleman.
Cristian Torres rode Lovely Ride to a finish 3/4 lengths in front of second-place Ice Orchid, ridden by Ricardo Santana, Jr., and trained by John Ortiz. The 5-2 favorite Le Da Vida, ridden by Vincent Cheminaud and trained by Ignacio Correas IV finished a fast-closing third, 1 length behind Ice Orchid and 6 3/4 lengths in front of fourth-place Traverse, ridden by Francisco Arrieta.
Torres also road Arthurian to a first-place finish in Oaklawn's second race to give Diodoro his breakthrough win.
"That was beautiful," Torres said. "You know, his family's here. A lot of his owners are here. It was a great day. It was a great experience. He always wants the best for his employees and the horses and everyone. He's a great guy."
Diodoro started Oaklawn's 2022-23 season hopeful his now hometown racetrack would become the site of his 3,000th training win.
"This was unbelievable, especially for it to happen here," Diodoro said. "You know, we're shuffling around. We had one horse at Delta [Downs] last night, but we wanted to win it here. My parents are here. There's a big crowd today. It worked out like, like perfect."
As for Lovely Ride's win, Diodoro said he knew all along it would require more from her than the demands she met to win Oaklawn's 1-mile Mistletoe Stakes on Dec. 10.
"I kept saying she had to step up a length or two to beat this field today," Diodoro said.
Lovely Ride broke first from the gate to start the Pippin. Ice Orchid was next with Traverse a step back.
Arrieta said he felt no need to stay with the early speed of the leaders.
"It was kind of too early, so I decided to sit," Arrieta said. "When I finally let her run, she came running."
Lovely Ride's gate-to-wire win reached the first quarter-mile 1 length in front of Ice Orchid in 23.32. Coach, at 5-1, was another length back in third.
Lovely Ride reached the half in 47.40, with Ice Orchid and Coach still second and third, respectively, and they remained in that order through three-quarters in 1:12.11.
It was still Lovely Ride on the lead, which had opened to 1 1/2 lengths over Ice Orchid, as the field of 10 began its turn for the wire. By then, an oddity had arisen from the quick fade of Coach, owned by Kueber Racing and trained by multiple-Eclipse Award-winner Brad Cox. Coach, last year's Pippin winner, faded to seventh and eventually finished eighth. She had not finished further back than fourth since a ninth-place finish on April 30, 2021.
"She was laying in a perfect spot, third, right outside the first- and second-place finishers," jockey Joe Talamo said. "Around the turn, I started asking her, and she just never kicked on. Down the stretch, she just never did fire today. She's always right there. It surprised me."
Front-running speed near the rail had dominated Oaklawn's day of racing, but as Lovely Ride approached the 1/8th pole, she began a slow drift toward the middle of the racetrack, and Ice Orchid began to close. This presented no dilemma to Torres.
"I was trying to keep her inside, but I didn't want to take anything away by fighting her, so I just let her drift out," he said. "She was giving me everything, so when we got past the eighth pole, I knew we were home."
Regardless of track position, Lovely Ride held enough momentum to repel Ice Orchid's best shot and win her second consecutive stakes race of the Oaklawn season. She also helped build upon Diodoro's career accomplishments.
Diodoro joined four other longtime Oaklawn training regulars on the select list of success, including Steve Asmussen, a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame who has trained horses to a North American record 9,967 wins. Hall of Fame member D. Wayne Lukas is ninth on the all-time list with 4,887. Karl Broberg is 13th with 4,596 and David Vance 32nd with 3,192. The late Jack Van Berg completed his Hall of Fame career as an Oaklawn jewel in 2017 with 6,523 training wins, fourth all-time.
"Robertino is a great trainer," Torres said. "I'm very happy to ride for him. He always does a great job. He always knows where to put the horses. It was very nice to win for him today."