- NEW YEAR OFF TO A WINNING START FOR NAKATANI
- SHAH TURNS HIS HORSES OVER TO SHERMAN, O’NEILL
- SHANE’S GIRLFRIEND TO RUN IN SANTA YNEZ STAKES
NAKATANI RETURNS TO SANTA ANITA A WINNER
Corey Nakatani is back.
Now 46, the native of Covina has returned to Santa Anita, site of some of his greatest triumphs, looking fresh, fit, and if the front-running win in Saturday’s second race on first-time starter Gogoula at 8-1 for trainer George Papaprodromou is any indication, formidable as well.
For good measure, Nakatani won the fourth race, the $100,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes, aboard the Richard Baltas-trained Goodyearforroses.
“I’m happy to be home,” said Nakatani, looking like he just sipped from the Fountain of Youth. “California is where I was born (in Covina), this is where I started racing (in 1988) and Santa Anita’s always had a special place in my heart. I was leading rider here (in 1995-96 and 1999-2000) and won so many stakes races (132, placing him eighth all-time at Santa Anita).”
Nakatani was the leading apprentice rider in Southern California in 1989, topping the nation in earnings among ‘bug’ boys with $2.3 million. His victory on Goodyearforroses gave him 1,035 at Santa Anita, ninth on the track’s all-time list.
“I’ve got my weight down to 118 pounds and I’m working out with Becky (Touber) at Sierra Fitness in Sierra Madre. I train sometimes two days a week and I need to lose about five pounds of muscle weight, which is a lot harder to lose. I’ve got to get back into the grind and do what I do best, which is riding horses.
“So we started to do interval training two and three times a day. Becky came up with a regimen and it’s worked, but it’s not over yet. I’m just doing what I do best and enjoying it now that we’re healthy again. Everything’s fine now.”
Nakatani overcame walking pneumonia after a recent stint at Oaklawn Park.
“I’m going to get my weight down to 114, which would be perfect,” he said. “Then I could tack 17, 18 (pounds) every day. My training regimen is very similar to what Laffit (Pincay Jr.) had with Becky.”
Corey’s agent is his son, Matt, who graduated from the University of Louisville two years ago and is mature beyond his 24 years. When Gogoula won, it marked his first win as an agent.
“I studied sports management and communications,” Matt said, “and I planned to go to law school from there to be an NFL sports agent, but when the opportunity came for me to represent my father, I couldn’t turn it down. It was something I always wanted to do. I always loved following the horses. I think I’ve watched every race of my Dad’s for the past 10 years.
“I follow the horses pretty heavily; my whole family’s involved. My Mom (Michele) is a trainer, my Aunt (Aimee) trains for Graham Motion, my grandfather (the late Wally Dollase) was a trainer and my uncle Craig is a trainer, so it’s always been in my blood from Day One.
“I’ve always wanted to do it but never knew if I would get the opportunity. When my Dad stepped away for a little while, I knew I was going to be the key to getting him back, so I’ve been on him for months.
“It took time, but when I said we should do this as a team, we’re here for each other and we have each other’s backs, ultimately, I got him to return.”
SHERMAN RECEIVES DORTMUND FROM KALEEM SHAH
The New Year began with surprising but welcome news for trainers Art Sherman and Doug O’Neill, recipients of some blueblood Thoroughbreds from owner/breeder Kaleem Shah, who moved his 13 horses from Bob Baffert, giving six to Sherman and seven to O’Neill.
In an email, Baffert said he and Shah “have ended their business relationship.”
Among those given to Sherman were 2015 Santa Anita Derby winner Dortmund and Triple Crown hopeful Klimt, winner of the Grade I Del Mar Futurity this past September. Among those sent to O’Neill were three-year-old maiden winner Iliad, a son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, and American Gal, third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
“It was a big surprise for me,” said Sherman, who will send out 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome for his final race in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park. After that, it’s off to stud for the popular California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit who turned six today, so Dortmund could prove a fortuitous acquisition.
“I only met Mr. Shah one time. He was very cordial and a very nice man,” Sherman said. “It came out of the blue. I’ve never had a client like him with so much money.”
Sherman will ship California Chrome to Florida from Ontario Airport at 2 a.m. on Jan. 6. Sherman plans to leave Jan.19.
“The horse is doing unbelievably good,” Sherman said.
Said Doug O’Neill: “We’re so excited, blessed and grateful. We’re looking forward to being a part of Team Shah.”
Added Doug’s brother, Dennis: “We were sitting in our suite at Santa Anita when we got the news. We were extremely surprised.”
FINISH LINES: Phil D’Amato, trainer of new San Pasqual morning line favorite at 2-5 Midnight Storm with the scratch of Arrogate: “I would think we’re going to be on the pace or right there. Acceptance has some tactical speed, but my guy’s ready to go.” . . . Team O’Neill plans to pass the Sham Stakes against males and run romping Delta Princess victor Shane’s Girlfriend against monster maiden winner Unique Bella and other three-year-old fillies in next Sunday’s Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes at seven furlongs . . . Victor Espinoza will ride Perfectly Majestic in quest of the gelding’s first stakes victory in Saturday’s Grade II San Gabriel Stakes scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on turf. Mike Smith has the assignment on Twentytwentyvision for Richard Mandella, who has Flavien Prat engaged for Chilean import Paquita Coqueta in Saturday’s Grade III Las Cienegas Stakes set for about 6 ½ furlongs on turf . . . Santa Anita will be dark for live racing Tuesday through Thursday. Live racing resumes Friday, Jan. 6, at 1 p.m. Admission gates open at 11 a.m. . . . Players wishing to gain a seat in the 2017 National Handicapping Championship Challenge in Las Vegas Jan. 7 or get a head start in the 2018 event can buy in to Santa Anita’s Players Choice contest for $500. The top five finishers in the Players Choice competition will have their pick of a 2017 or 2018 NHC Challenge entry. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top four Players Choice finishers: $10,000, $2,500, $1,500 and $1,000. For further information, visit santaanita.com/contest.