Santa Anita, So Cal Racing Shine Brightly As Nakatani, Toro, Arrogate, California Chrome & Songbird Are All Headed To Hall Of Fame
SANTA ANITA, SO CAL RACING SHINE BRIGHTLY AS NAKATANI, TORO, ARROGATE, CALIFORNIA CHROME & SONGBIRD ARE ALL HEADED TO HALL OF FAME
ARCADIA, CA (April 27, 2023)—Santa Anita Park and Southern California racing were indeed flattered on Tuesday when it was announced that jockeys Corey Nakatani and Fernando Toro, along with superstar horses Arrogate, California Chrome and Songbird, were headed for induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Aug. 4 in Saratoga Springs, NY.
Among jockeys, it’s doubtful there has ever been a fiercer competitor than Corey Nakatani. Born Oct. 21, 1970 in nearby Covina, Nakatani’s path to the racetrack was anything but ordinary. The son of mass transit bus driver, Nakatani’s first experience with horses came as the result of an early morning ride-along with his dad, as a part of his route took him to the Fashion Park shopping mall that adjoined The Great Race Place off of Baldwin Ave.
“I was a freshman wrestler at Northview High School and I got hurt, I broke my nose,” said Nakatani. “So I rode with my dad and I was standing on the apron at Santa Anita watching the horses and my dad was inside betting on ’em. I saw Jack Van Berg, and I said, ‘Do those guys make any money?’ And he said, ‘Well, you see that guy right there? That’s Bill Shoemaker and other guy is Charlie Whittingham. They make over a million dollars a year, those guys.’
“And so I’m thinking, wow, that guy’s small. I could beat that guy at anything. That was just me. I was competitive. I was a fierce competitor at that age. As a kid, I was always told, ‘You’re too small, you can’t do that.’ And I knew I’d go climb the corner of a building if you wanted to bet me. I’d go slam dunk a basketball, run up the wall and slam it on the wall of the house if you wanted to bet me, I would do it.
“God gave me a lot of talent. Whatever sport it was, I was pretty good at it.”
It wasn’t long before “C-Nak” became pretty good at the horse game as well.
“I just fell in love with the horses,” he said. While free-lancing for several trainers, Nakatani’s first full-time assignment came with the legendary Hall of Fame jockey John Longden who following his retirement in 1966, operated a public stable for many years at Santa Anita.
“I was staying in a tack room at Santa Anita and grooming four horses for Johnny” said Nakatani. “I was getting on them too…It was one of those things. I connected with the horses and I loved doing it. Because Johnny only had four horses, I was able to free-lance after I was done with those four horses. I’d get on horses for Eric Longden, then I’d take care of the Stucki’s (of Ancient Title fame), then Vince Tymphony and after that, Barbara Caganich. So I was getting on a lot of horses and getting a lot of experience.”
Did Longden, known in his riding days as “The Pumper,” have any advice for a teenage Corey Nakatani?
“He would tell me all the time, ‘You’ve got what it takes to do this, I see it…Work hard and do what you do and you’re going to make it.’ And I always remembered that. He was one of the first guys that told me I could do it. Most of the people around would say, ‘It’s gonna be tough, you’ve got all these Hall of Fame riders here…’
“At that time, we had Shoemaker, Pincay, McCarron, Delahoussaye and everybody would talk about all the great riders we had here and to me, yeah, they’re great riders, but I thought if I’m gonna become a great rider, I’ll take a little from Chris, take a little bit from Eddie, a little bit from Laffit, a little bit from Solis, a little bit from Desormeaux, take a little bit from everybody and put ’em into one. That was my mentality.”
Nakatani, who finished a close second in the Eclipse Award balloting for Apprentice Jockey of the Year in 1989, was soon on his way to becoming one of racing’s all-time greats, winning 3,909 races with purse earnings of $234,554,534 (14th all-time) from 1988 until his retirement due to injury in 2018. His 341 graded stakes wins included 10 victories in Breeders’ Cup races.
A winner of 10 Southern California riding titles that included a pair of Santa Anita Winter/Spring crowns in 1995-96 and 1999-2000, Nakatani finished in the nation’s top 20 in annual earnings 16 times, including 11 times in the top 10. He ranks in the top 10 in overall wins and stakes wins at both Santa Anita and Del Mar. His 1,033 races-won at Santa Anita place him ninth all-time, while his 131 Santa Anita stakes wins place him eighth.
At Del Mar, he ranks second all-time with 104 stakes wins and sixth all-time by races won with 705.
A three-time winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, with Bob Baffert’s General Challenge in 2000 and Doug O’Neill’s superstar gelding Lava Man in 2006 and 2007, Nakatani won the 2008 Santa Anita Derby aboard the Eoin Harty-trained Colonel John.
His 10 Breeders’ Cup wins included the 1996 Distaff and Sprint with Jewel Princess and Lit de Justice, the 1997 Sprint with Elmhurst, the 1998 Sprint with Reraise, the 1999 Mile with Silic, the 2004 Juvenile Fillies with Sweet Catomine, the 2006 Sprint with Thor’s Echo, the 2011 Turf Sprint and Juvenile Fillies with Regally Ready and My Miss Aurelia, followed by victory in the 2012 Dirt Mile with Tapizar.
“I rode aggressive,” said Nakatani. “I don’t think I crossed the line too many times, where I felt like I put a guy in danger…At the end of the day, I’m friends with all of the riders…We all have families to go home to…Race riding and crossing the line are two different things. I think I rode to that point…I was very fierce, I didn’t like losing. I wanted to do the best I could do for anybody I rode for.
“If I was riding all of Bob Baffert’s horses, and for example, if I was getting on some other person’s horse, it wouldn’t matter to me. Even though I’m getting on all these other horses for Bob, I’m going to go out there and ride for that person and do the best I can on that horse.”
Although Nakatani never a won a Kentucky Derby, he won the Kentucky Oaks twice, in 1991 with Lite Light and in 1996, with Pike Place Dancer.
Nakatani, 52, can often be found these days helping his youngest daughter Lilah in out-of-town horse show competitions and is proud of the fact his son Matt is a successful jockey agent in Southern California, currently representing Mario Gutierrez and Umberto Rispoli.
“I’ve been blessed by all my kids, Brittany, Matt, Austin, Tayler and Lilah. My wife Lisa put me back together a few times after I got hurt and I know I’m blessed to have her. The Lord works in mysterious ways. I won my first race at Caliente in 1988 on a horse named Blue King for Juan Garcia and I won my last race for Juan Garcia with a horse named Little Juanito on the day I broke my neck, Aug. 4, 2018. It’ll be exactly five years later on Aug. 4, when I go into the Hall of Fame.”
Santa Anita will honor the great Corey Nakatani with The Corey Nakatani Hall of Fame Purse on Kentucky Oaks Day, Friday, May 5.
A native of Santiago, Chile, Fernando Toro, 82, affectionately known by his contemporaries as “The Bull,” relocated to Southern California in 1970 and quickly became a highly respected member of what many regard as one of the most powerful jockey colonies ever assembled.
Paired with legendary agent Chick McClellan, Toro won his very first race in Southern California, an allowance race on March 31, 1970 that was originally carded at about 6 ½ furlongs down Santa Anita’s hillside turf course. Trained by the late Melvin Stute, Cour La Hari won from the rail as the race was transferred to the main track due to wet weather and paid $17.60 to win.
“I only had one mount that day,” recalled Toro. “I didn’t know anything about him but he finished up good and we won by a nose. So you know, that’s the way it started off. That opened the doors for me right away.”
Highly accomplished in his native Chile, where he also won with his first mount at age 15 in 1956, Toro would lead Chile’s national jockey standings twice and was a three-time winner of Chile’s prestigious Gran Premio, as well as the 1964 Clasico St. Leger.
With Hollywood Park’s Spring/Summer Meet set to begin in April, 1970, Southern California horsemen and railbirds were soon to discover a new and consistent means of making money, as the phrase “Toro on the Turf!” became a familiar battle cry.
“You know, everybody was telling me, ‘You’re coming to California? With all those top riders, what’s your chance, what are you thinking?’ Well, I thought, I’m going to learn a lot, that’s for sure. I wasn’t intimidated.
“I knew Eduardo Inda (former longtime assistant to Ron McAnally) from Chile and he told me, ‘It’s too cold in New York. Why don’t you go to California? I can get an agent for you.’ So, a couple phone calls and I hired Chick McClellan, no problem.”
Even though he was thrust into a Jocks’ Room that was occupied at the time by the likes of Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Donald Pierce, Alvaro Pineda and Jerry Lambert, Toro’s patience and horsemanship soon projected him into the top-jock conversation.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t know much about Hollywood Park or the turf course, but Chick told me, ‘Look, Fernando, not too many horses at Hollywood Park win on the lead on the grass. Everybody goes to the outside. You just sit and wait and stay on the inside, it will open up.’ That was it, he didn’t have to mention it again to me.”
Competing on a regular basis through the 70s and 80s against the likes Shoemaker, Pierce, Pincay, Eddie Delahoussaye, Sandy Hawley, Chris McCarron, Darrel McHargue, Alex Solis, Gary Stevens, Patrick Valenzuela and others, Toro would amass 80 graded stakes wins in North America.
Regarded as one of the classiest riders of his era, Toro won Santa Anita’s prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1975. At the point of his retirement in 1990, he ranked in the top 10, all-time, in stakes wins at Del Mar (No. 6), Hollywood Park (No. 8) and Santa Anita (tied at No. 8).
Two of Toro’s biggest Grade I wins came late in his career, as he won the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Mile in 1984 with the John Gosden-trained Royal Heroine and the 1986 Arlington Million aboard the Charlie Whittingham-conditioned Estrapade.
“The Breeders’ Cup Mile was one of the biggest races of my life, you know? Before the race, there were a lot of things going on with Royal Heroine. My agent at the time, Ron Anderson, called me and said, ‘Look, Fernando, I just talked to John Gosden and it’s 50-50, maybe we’re going to have to scratch.’ I said ‘Okay.’ So, all I could do was wait. We had already entered and nobody was talking about the post position.
“It was a flat mile and we had post position number twelve. So, on that Saturday (Nov. 10, 1984), I was driving over to Hollywood Park, just praying she would be able to run…Nobody called me, so that was good news. The first race I rode that day (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies), I rode a filly for Richard Mandella named Pirate’s Glow and I almost went down. Patrick Valenzuela (aboard Fran’s Valentine) came up and he shut me off so bad, my filly went to her knees. The stewards put up the Inquiry and they took her down…
“I was so shook up, I took a cold shower and just wanted to relax. So, I didn’t ride until a couple races later, Royal Heroine’s race, and I was ready. I didn’t even care about the post position. I was happy with being on the outside…I had my plan. There was a lot of speed. I thought I would let three or four go and I would drop in, that’s it. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Royal Heroine would surge late under Toro to win going away by 1 ½ lengths, while taking down first prize money of $450,000.
Two years later in Chicago, on Aug. 31, 1986, Toro worked out another great trip aboard Estrapade, resulting in a resounding five length victory in the Arlington Million.
“She was a one-paced mare,” Toro recalled. “When she came here, Shoemaker was riding her. When I rode her the first time, I thought, ‘Shoemaker is always in the middle of the pack and she’s coming from behind.’ She had raced in France and this was typical…Cover them up and then come running. That day, it just happened, that leaving the gate, the first or second jump, we were a length in front. So, I just let her gallop. That was it. She was one-paced, she could run all day.”
With 3,555 races won and career purse earnings of $56,299,765 at the point of his retirement on June 29, 1990, Toro can now rightly take his place among the game’s giants.
“It’s very hard to describe the feeling that I had at that moment,” said Toro when recalling being notified in-person by Eclipse Award winning journalists Jay Hovdey and Jay Privman of his selection via the HOF Review Committee. “You know, I was nominated three times before in the last five years…I didn’t have any hope, but I was always thinking about it.”
To view the emotional moment Toro was notified at his home in Carlsbad, fans are encouraged to visit Jay Privman’s Twitter account, @jayprivman.
Santa Anita-based Arrogate, who was owned by Juddmonte Farms and trained by Bob Baffert, retired as Thoroughbred racing’s all-time leading money earner following his 4-year-old campaign in 2017 with $17,422,600 from an overall race record of 11-7-1-1.
Third in his career debut at age three at Los Alamitos in April of 2016, Arrogate broke his maiden at Santa Anita on June 5, 2016, followed by allowance scores at Santa Anita June 24 and at Del Mar on Aug. 4.
This set the stage for one of the most spectacular performances in racing history on Aug. 27, 2016 at Saratoga, as Arrogate broke a 37-year-old stakes and track record by winning the Travers by 13 ½ lengths while getting a mile and one quarter under Mike Smith in 1:59.36.
This spectacular win was followed by victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 5, 2016, a race in which Smith employed cat and mouse tactics in defeating odds-on favorite California Chrome by a half length.
Subsequently voted Eclipse Champion 3-Year-Old Male for 2016, Arrogate, who was by Unbridled’s Song out the Distorted Humor mare Bubble, then took Gulfstream Park’s Pegasus World Cup Invitational by 4 ¾ lengths, setting a track record for a mile and one eighth of 1:46.83.
In what would be the final win of his career, Arrogate, despite missing the break and racing in tight quarters early, reeled in the field and took the $11 million Dubai World Cup on March 25, 2017, defeating eventual Horse of the Year Gun Runner by 2 ¼ lengths. Returning to Del Mar that summer, he wasn’t the same horse—losing both the San Diego Handicap on July 22 and the Pacific Classic Aug. 19. In his career finale at Del Mar on Nov. 4, 2017, he would finish a non-threatening fifth, beaten 6 ¼ lengths by Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
From humble beginnings to becoming one of the most instantly recognized names in sports history, trainer Art Sherman’s California Chrome, who was headquartered at Los Alamitos, won 10 graded stakes, including signature victories at age three in the 2014 Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Subsequently third, beaten a neck in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 1, California Chrome finished his sophomore campaign with a victory on turf in the Grade I Hollywood Derby at Del Mar on Nov. 29.
Subsequently voted Eclipse Award Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Male for 2014, California Chrome, a California-bred colt by Lucky Pulpit out of Love the Chase by Not for Love, was owned by his breeders, Perry Martin and Steve Coburn.
With just five starts due to injury at age four in 2015, “Chrome” bounced back with a tremendous 5-year-old campaign in 2016, winning seven out of his eight races, including the Dubai World Cup, the Pacific Classic and both the Awesome Again and San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita.
Ridden regularly by Victor Espinoza, California Chrome, who garnered his third and fourth Eclipse Awards as 2016 Champion Older Male and 2016 Horse of the Year, retired with an overall mark of 27-16-4-1 and, at the time, record earnings of $14,752,650.
Owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Songbird, a filly by Medaglia d’Oro out of Ivanavinalot by West Acre, raced from 2015 through 2017 and won Eclipse Awards as Champion 2-Year-Old Filly in 2015 and Champion 3-Year-Old Filly in 2016.
A winner of 12 graded stakes, nine of them Grade I events, Songbird retired with an amazing career resume of 15-13-2-0 and earnings of $4,692,000.
A winner of three Grade I stakes at age two, the Del Mar Debutante, Santa Anita’s Chandelier Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2015, Songbird would take three Grade I’s at age three, the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Alabama and the Cotillion, as well as Grade II scores at Santa Anita in the Las Virgenes and Summertime Oaks.
After winning the first 11 races of her career, Songbird suffered a heartbreaking nose defeat to eventual Hall of Famer Beholder in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita.
A two-time Grade I winner at age four of the Ogden Phipps at Belmont and the Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park in 2017, Songbird was retired following a second place finish in the Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga on Aug. 26, 2017.