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STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN
• FUTURE IS NOW FOR YOUNG-AT-HEART COREY NAKATANI
• IF AT FIRST HE DOESN’T SUCCEED, LAKERVILLE TRIES AGAIN
• PERSERVERANCE PAYS OFF FOR AGENT IN RICH CT CLASSIC
• TRAINERS’ RACE COULD GO DOWN TO TODAY’S FINALE
NAKATANI GOING STRONG IN QUEST OF FIRST DERBY WIN
Corey Nakatani will seek his first Kentucky Derby victory in his 17th attempt when he rides Blue Grass Stakes winner Dance With Fate in the Run for the Roses on May 3.
Although he’s 43, the native of Covina, California, is riding with the vim and vigor of someone half his age. Anyone who doubts his crafty competitiveness need only look at his courageously cunning victory aboard Flamboyant at 6-1 in yesterday’s La Puente Stakes.
Going into today’s finale of Santa Anita’s Winter Meet, Nakatani ranked seventh in the standings with 34 wins and was second in stakes wins with eight. Nationally, he was 10th in purse earnings through April 19 with $2,951,201
He hopes to start a new run when he rides Halo Dolly for Jerry Hollendorfer in the $100,000 Fran’s Valentine Stakes for California-bred or sired fillies and mares next Saturday, the second day of Santa Anita Anita’s inaugural Spring Meet that begins Friday with twilight racing at 3 p.m.
Halo Dolly, a veritable win machine with 18 victories from 37 lifetime starts, won the Dream of Summer Stakes at one mile on the main track March 23 with Nakatani aboard. The Fran’s Valentine will be decided at the same distance, but on turf, where Halo Dolly has won 11 times from 22 starts.
“She’s a real classy filly,” said Nakatani, who rode the 6-year-old California-bred daughter of Popular to a length-and-a-half victory in the Dream of Summer.
“She does whatever they ask her to do. She can run on any surface, I believe. When I got beat on her (fourth in the Grade I Gamely last May) behind Marketing Mix, Tiz Flirtatious and Lady Shamrock, they’re pretty good fillies, so I think she’ll put her best foot forward on Saturday and hopefully win another race.”
As one of Hollendorfer’s go-to riders, droughts in the winner’s circle are rare occurrences for Nakatani. The 67-year-old Hollendorfer, one of only five trainers with more than 6,000 career victories, is a staunch believer in Vince Lombardi’s credo that “Winning is the only thing.”
“Anytime you get a chance to ride for a Hall of Famer, and someone who’s got as much passion as Jerry does, at his age, it’s a definite plus,” Nakatani said. “He’s out there every morning, he works hard and he has a passion for winning just like the riders. He’s competitive and it’s a pleasure to ride for him.”
All that’s well and good, but Nakatani is still focused on every rider’s dream: winning the Kentucky Derby, which he hopes to do with trainer Pete Eurton’s Dance With Fate.
“The horse earned his way to the Derby,” Nakatani said. ”It’s not like they gave him a spot in the race. He won a Grade I prep that has as much tradition as there is . . . After I looked at his past performances again, and the way he ran in the Blue Grass, he deserves a shot. He earned his way into the Derby. That was my feeling. He’s got the right style.
“As long as he gets over the (Churchill Downs) surface well and I can give myself a position to track a few that are busy from Point A to Point B, I think he’ll give a good account of himself.”
If nothing else, Nakatani has history on his side. His agent, Tony Matos, has represented riders who have won the Kentucky Derby six times: Angel Cordero Jr. (Cannonade, 1974, and Bold Forbes, 1976); Laffit Pincay Jr. (Swale, 1984); Kent Desormeaux (Real Quiet, 1998 and Fusaichi Pegasus, 2000); and Victor Espinoza (War Emblem, 2002).
LAKERVILLE ON QUICK TURNAROUND IN LAST TYCOON
Lakerville will be running in less than two weeks in Friday’s Spring Meet opening day test, the Grade III, $100,000 Last Tycoon Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on turf.
The 6-year-old Unusual Heat horse trained by Barry Abrams, who owns the late-running turf sprinter along with Madeline Auerbach, was second by a half-length in the Grade III San Simeon Stakes at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf April 13.
“There are no more (turf) sprints in California until the Breeders’ Cup (sixth months hence),” Abrams said in explaining his reason for running Friday. “If he can’t go two turns, I might as well send him back east or stop on him. This race is not tough on paper.
“It’s a mile and an eighth, but there’s no reason he can’t go a mile and an eighth. If he can’t be one-two in here, I’m just wasting my time, because there are no more sprints. If he’s just going to be a sprinter, I have to take him out or take him somewhere else and get ready for the Breeders’ Cup (Turf Sprint on Nov. 1).”
The field for the Last Tycoon: Quick Casablanca, Joe Talamo; Lakerville, Brice Blanc; Joelito, Corey Nakatani; Rookie Sensation, Mike Smith; Fire With Fire, Tyler Baze; and Spring Up, Victor Espinoza.
IMPERATIVE’S UPSET OF GAME ON DUDE HAS ITS JUST REWARDS
It’s not just politics that makes strange bedfellows. Horse racing runs a close second, for instance:
Agent Danny Thomas and Kent Desormeaux recently parted company, but it was Thomas who booked the Hall of Fame rider on former claiming horse Imperative in the Grade II San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 8.
In the San Antonio, Desormeaux rode the hair off the son of Bernardini, who was beaten a desperate half-length at 26-1 by 15-1 shot Blingo, with odds-on favorite Game On Dude nearly seven lengths back in fifth.
With Desormeaux aboard in the March 8 Santa Anita Handicap, Imperative would finish a well-beaten seventh behind Game On Dude, almost 18 lengths back at odds of 35-1.
Fast forward to Saturday night at Charles Town, West Virginia. Trainer George Papaprodromou gives Desormeaux a leg up on 26-1 outsider Imperative against Game On Dude and five other rivals in the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic.
Thomas, meanwhile, is on the outside looking in, since Mike Ciani now is Desormeaux’s new agent. But Thomas is in line for the agent’s share of Desormeaux’s cut of the $1 million that goes to winning owner KM Racing Enterprise, Inc.
“I saw Imperative was nominated to the San Antonio, I saw the probable lineup for the race and I saw his past performances,” Thomas recalled Sunday morning. “I thought he could run some. George said the horse had been working well and it looked like Game On Dude and Blueskiesnrainbows could soften each other up on the lead, and felt Imperative had a shot in the San Antonio, especially with a rider like Kent, who can get horses to run for him.
“I’m grateful to George for keeping Kent on for the Charles Town Classic. It’s not always easy for the connections of a longshot to run in a big race like that against a heavy favorite. I feel vindicated after last night’s race. All the hard work really paid off.”
QUEST FOR TRAINERS’ CROWN COULD GO DOWN TO FINAL RACE
The battle for Santa Anita’s Winter Meet training title may not be determined until today’s ninth and final race.
Entering today’s 69th and final day of racing, Jerry Hollendorfer led Bob Baffert, 34-33, with John Sadler a close third at 32.
After Sunday’s early scratches, Hollendorfer had four horses entered, Sadler five and Baffert one, 4-1 morning line chance Enchanted Fortune in the fourth race.
WHITE’S KENTUCKY DERBY ODDS: CALIFORNIA CHROME 5-2 FAVORITE
Jon White, who makes the morning line at Santa Anita, lists California Chrome as his personal 5-2 favorite with regard to his current odds for the May 3 Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs’ Mike Battaglia will announce the official morning line for the Kentucky Derby after post positions are drawn on April 30 for the 1 ¼-mile classic.
As usual, racing fans will be able to watch and wager on the Kentucky Derby at Santa Anita. This also will be the first year there will be live racing at Santa Anita the same day as the Kentucky Derby,
“There is absolutely no question California Chrome, who was so impressive when he won the Santa Anita Derby, is going to be the Kentucky Derby favorite,” said White, who again will be making the official morning lines for this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Nov. 1-2.
“California Chrome heads into the Kentucky Derby having run not one, not two, not three, but four big races in a row. I started him off as a 7-2 favorite Kentucky Derby favorite, then lowered him to 3-1 after Constitution dropped out. And then, after Cairo Prince also dropped out, I lowered California Chrome again, this time to 5-2.
“What’s really up in the air is who will be second favorite. Both Constitution and Cairo Prince would have been in the running for second favoritism. I’m thinking the second favorite might be Hoppertunity or Wicked Strong.
“I have those two at the same price, 8-1. Or, then again, it might turn out to be somebody else. That would not surprise me.”
Here are White’s current Kentucky Derby odds: California Chrome (5-2), Hoppertunity (8-1), Wicked Strong (8-1), Danza (12-1), Vicar’s in Trouble (12-1), Dance With Fate (15-1), General a Rod (15-1), Samraat (15-1), Tapiture (15-1), Wildcat Red (15-1), Candy Boy (20-1), Intense Holiday (20-1), Medal Count (20-1), Ride On Curlin (20-1), Uncle Sigh (20-1), Chitu (30-1), Harry’s Holiday (30-1), Ring Weekend (30-1), Vinceramos (30-1), We Miss Artie (30-1).
WINTER MEET ENDS TODAY, LIVE RACING RESUMES NEXT FRIDAY
Santa Anita ends its Winter Meet today. There will be no live racing at Santa Anita Monday through Thursday, April 21 through 24, but Santa Anita will be open April 24 for simulcast wagering in Sironas and the Paddock Room. Gates open at 10:15 a.m.
Live racing resumes on Friday, April 25, with twilight racing starting at 3 p.m. First post time on Saturday, April 26, and Sunday, April 27, will be 1 p.m., with gates opening at 11 a.m.
FINISH LINES: Si Sage, runner-up to Vagabond Shoes in the Grade II San Marcos Stakes on Feb. 8, will run in the Singapore Airlines International Cup on Sunday, May 18, for owner Jed Cohen’s Red Baron’s Barn and trainer Darrell Vienna. The 1 ½-mile turf race offers approximately $2.4 million U.S. in purse money.