By Nicholas Godfrey
Argentina: Diego Maradona, the footballing legend who died this week, was also a noted horse racing enthusiast who even numbered a G1 success among 18 winners as an owner in Argentina.
The sporting world is in mourning following the death of Maradona, considered by many the greatest footballer of all time, after a heart attack at the age of 60.
Among the thousands to pay tribute around the world was Brazilian star Jorge Ricardo, all-time record holder in career victories. “Today a great athlete left us, who accomplished his mission with mastery,” tweeted the jockey known as ‘Ricardinho’, based in Buenos Aires for nearly two decades. “Go with God, Diego Maradona.”
Indulging a childhood passion for horses when he returned to his native country in the 1990s in the latter stages of his glorious career, Maradona operated a string of horses under the Stud La Bombonera banner in homage to the famous ‘chocolate box’ ground of his beloved Boca Juniors FC in Buenos Aires.
Introduced to racing as an owner by his friend Hector Del Piano, a leading Argentine owner-breeder, Maradona’s horses carried blue-and-yellow silks – again, a nod to the Boca Juniors colours.
The highest-profile horse to represent Maradona was the colt who borrowed his nickname Diegol and won six races – five at Palermo and the G1 Gran Premio Joaquin V Gonzalez at La Plata in November 1997. Trained by Jorge Mayansky Neer, he was bred out of the mare Dalma Nerea, whom Maradona owned in partnership with Del Piano.
Maradona enjoyed naming his horses with personal footballing links: Cani –after his flamboyant Argentine teammate Claudio Caniggia, a close friend; the pair once celebrated a goal with a kiss on the lips! – and Nob, a reference to his time playing for Rosario-based Newell’s Old Boys, also featured for him. Guillote was named for his agent Guillermo Coppola.
Another leading performer was G3 scorer Persuasivo Fitz, who won three times at San Isidro before being sold to race in Dubai as a four-year-old. In later life, Maradona was seen at Meydan during a stint living in Dubai, where he also managed local side Al Wasl for a spell.
Although Maradona’s appearances at the racetrack were only sporadic, he did the honours presenting the trophies after the three-year-old Refinado Tom completed the Argentine Triple Crown with victory in the GP Nacional (Argentine Derby) on dirt at Palermo in 1996.
The horse was ridden by superstar jockey Jorge Valdivieso, who also rode Maradona’s horses when commitments allowed. “Even if it’s mine, I can’t ride it – I’ll leave it to Valdi,” Maradona once remarked.
Maradona’s first trainer in Argentina was Ignacio Correas, who went on to operate successfully in the US, notably via the Breeders’ Cup Distaff success of ex-Argentine Blue Prize in 2019.
In Argentina, Blue Priza was also handled by Jorge Mayansky Neer, who became a friend of Maradona when training for him before he dispersed his interests after the turn of the century.
“I named my youngest son Diego for him, and I almost named him Diego Armando,” said the trainer, speaking to journalist Carlos Delfino for La Nacion in January this year.
“He was very passionate and when he didn’t go to the races and we won with one, I immediately called him.
“The day after Diegol won a Group 1, he had a barbecue at the stud and joked a lot with everyone, as always.”
• Find out more about racing in Argentina at the Turf Diario website