Lindolfo Diaz has a dream team on his side, as he prepares to saddle the fastest qualifier to the Grade 2, $361,700 Robert Adair Kindergarten Futurity on Sunday night at Los Alamitos Race Course. The 31-year-old trainer will saddle the undefeated Chayito Cartel in the 65th running of this 300-yard classic, a horse owned and bred by his father, J. Francisco Diaz, and ridden by Jesus Rios Ayala, his best friend and best man at his wedding. A gelding by Favorite Cartel, Chayito Cartel is out of the 2001 mare Runnin In Traffic, who the older Diaz campaigned at Los Alamitos in the early 2000s when Lindolfo was a teenager just starting to dream about one day being involved in Quarter Horse racing.
“I’d rank Chayito Cartel’s trial victory among my most special ones,” the trainer said. “It’s definitely a sentimental one because we watched him grow up. His dam, Runnin In Traffic, had not produced a lot – I think her best runner prior to Chayito Cartel was a winner at the $10,000 claiming level. Our nickname for her was Chayito after Mexican singer Chayito Valdez. Runnin In Traffic injured her back shortly after he was born so he’s one her last babies. We decided to use Chayito in his name in her honor.”
On Cinco de Mayo, on the night of the Kindergarten trials, Chayito Cartel made the entire Diaz family sing some happy tunes following his impressive 1 ¼ length victory in the fastest qualifying time of :15.44. In the winner’s circle after the race, Lindolfo thanked his father for always supporting and encouraging his dream of becoming a Quarter Horse trainer.
“Without that man, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Lindolfo said. “He has invested so much money and so much time in me just to have me here.”
The trainer has made it work successfully. Seven years into a solid career, Lindolfo has saddled 120 winners for more than $1.4 million in earnings. And the moments like the ones after that Kindergarten trial are priceless.
“When I talked to my dad after Chayito’s trial win, he was just ecstatic,” Diaz said. “He watched the race from his home in San Diego and he just couldn’t believe it. He congratulated me and was super happy. That was a lot of fun. We didn’t think this horse was much early on. His workouts were okay, but not super-fast. Then he ran big in his first race and huge in the trials. All I’m hoping for now is to have a clean race in the final. I think all 10 horses have a shot.”
Since that impressive outing, Chayito Cartel has been doing everything right in preparation for the final according to his trainer.
“He pulled up well after the trials,” he said. “He’s a laid back horse and a good eater. Nothing seems to bother him. After the race, he ate all his grain. That’s very important. There were two weeks in between his last work (April 6) and his debut (April 19) and two weeks between his first race and the trials. It is also two weeks between the trials and final. With that schedule, we’ve just wanted him to take it easy and rest. We took him to the track twice for a light jog - nothing major. He went to the gate twice. That’s my biggest thing. I want him nice and relax in there. He’s shown that he can finish so I want him to work on leaving the gate nicely. He’s fit enough. He can go 300 yards.”
A big effort from Chayito Cartel under the Kindergarten spotlight would mean a lot to Diaz’s training career.
“I’m still relatively new in this game and my name is not out there a lot,” he said. “We have a small barn and it’s mostly claimers. I try to claim horses, build them up, and do well with them. It’s hard to do. The money is in the 2-year-old game. If you do well with 2-year-olds, your name gets out there and maybe you get some horses. Hopefully we’ll do well in the final. I like where he drew. This is the third time in a row that’ he’s drawn the number five post. He’s also in between some good horses (third fastest qualifier Diamond Rock and fourth fastest Leonel Bugatti). He’ll have live targets to chase on both end. I just hope it’s a clean race.”
J. Francisco Diaz campaigned the fine mare Running Bac, a Grade 1 stakes winner of the 2002 Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap and of over $110,000 in her career. During her best years, Lindolfo Diaz was right next to his dad whenever he would come out to Los Alamitos Race Course.
“Since my dad got into the sport in 1999-2000, I fell in love with it right away. He had horses with Charles Treece, Juan Aleman, and Jose Flores. I just loved it all. I knew that it was I wanted to do soon after. Jose Flores always encouraged me to ask as many questions as possible about the horses. In this game, you learn something new every day. The horses teach you something new each day. On the day of the trials, I was talking to Ayala about Chayito Cartel’s tendencies in the starting gates. In his works, he tended to break in a little bit. We wanted to put him facing one bar up in his starting gate stall. We felt that he would lug in a bit, but since he was facing out, he would break a little straighter. I’ve done this with a couple of horses before and it’s worked with some and not with others. It worked with him so we’ll try it again in the final.”
The trainer and jockey have a great working relationship and an even greater friendship.
“Ayala is my best friend - the best man at my wedding,” Lindolfo said. “I’ve known him since he was 16 when I was still helping out Jose Flores. We were roommates for about three years. I’m proud of how well he’s done in this sport. He’s earned it. He works so hard. He’s an excellent rider and an excellent person. He has a great work ethic and that’s why he succeeds. He’s at the track every day and is always hungry to improve and succeed. He’s always studying the horses. It helps a lot of have him on my horses. I know it’s a huge plus for me.”
The trainer is hoping for a good outcome on Sunday night, but win or lose, it’ll be a special race.
“My dad will be here on Sunday night,” he added. “That’s going to make it fun no matter what.”