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HORSE RACING

Nakatani's Comeback Going Strong

July 29, 2002|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DEL MAR — Corey Nakatani's comeback is in full throttle, less than a week after it began.

Sidelined since May 2, when he suffered a concussion in a spill at Hollywood Park, Nakatani had his first mounts on Wednesday, opening day at Del Mar. He won his first races on Friday night, the second of two wins coming with Humorous Lady in the filly division of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Assn. Stakes.

After another win Saturday, Nakatani was reunited with a familiar friend in Sarafan on Sunday and alertly rode the 5-year-old gelding to a 1 1/4-length win over Beat Hollow, the 1-2 favorite, in the $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap.

Nakatani sounded ambitious.

"If I can get the opportunities, I think I have a realistic shot at leading the meet," he said. "I'm healthy again and I'm focused. I'm hoping for the best."

Nakatani, 31, has won two Del Mar titles, the most recent in 1998. Nakatani's previous wins in the Eddie Read were with Fastness in 1996 and Approach The Bench in 1994.

Nakatani had ridden Sarafan four times for trainer Neil Drysdale earlier this year, including the Fair Grounds race in March in which owner Gary Tanaka's horse first defeated Beat Hollow. In five U.S. starts, Beat Hollow's only two losses have come against Sarafan.

In Sunday's race, before a crowd of 19,665, Nakatani tracked Beat Hollow behind the two leaders, Redattore and Night Patrol, but when it seemed as though no room was going to open inside, the jockey swung his mount to the outside. Sarafan passed Beat Hollow and took the lead with an eighth of a mile left.

By the time Beat Hollow and his rider, Alex Solis, got clear, Sarafan had an insurmountable lead. Beat Hollow finished a neck in front of Redattore, last year's Eddie Read winner, in the six-horse field.

"It was bad luck," Solis said. "I didn't want to be in that pocket, but the way the race came up, I didn't have much choice. Those horses fanned out in front of me and I had nowhere to go. Stuff happens sometimes. It happened here."

Sarafan finished 1 1/8 miles on grass in 1:46 3/5, tying the course record set by Al Mamoon when he won the Eddie Read in 1986. The winner carried 117 pounds, five less than Beat Hollow.

The second choice, Sarafan paid $10.80 and earned $240,000, which sent his career purses over the $1-million mark. This was only his third win in 16 starts since the horse left England and was sent to Drysdale less than two years ago.

"He's a little bit of a hard head," Nakatani said. "He's got a mind of his own, but he has a ton of ability. I'm glad I got to work him in the morning. I knew he had a great turn of foot to give me, and he felt strong all the way. It makes a big difference when you're feeling healthy. I've got my confidence back, and hopefully this is going to lead to bigger and better things."

Drysdale, who won the Eddie Read with Deputy Governor in 1988, said that Sarafan might run in the Arlington Million on Aug. 17.

"When they came to the stretch, I had a lot of horse," said Laffit Pincay, who rode Redattore. "But they came pretty strong at the end."

*

In an earlier stake, the $100,000 Fleet Treat for California-bred 3-year-old fillies, undefeated Bear Fan registered her third win, beating Nicole's Pursuit by 7 1/2 lengths in 1:22 3/5 for seven furlongs.

Bear Fan, paying $2.80 under Mike Smith, had won her two previous starts, both this year, by nine lengths.

Trainer Wesley Ward bred Bear Fan and also owns her in a partnership with Peter Fan, a Hong Kong plastics executive.

"She was so big that I wanted to give her some time before racing her," Ward said. "She was a beautiful foal, but you can find a lot of beautiful foals. You don't know what's inside them until they run."

*

Jerry Bailey won eight races and three stakes the last two days at Saratoga, the last of his hot weekend a 3 3/4-length win with Dancethruthedawn in the $250,000 Go For Wand Handicap.

The upstate New York track drew 50,441 Sunday, with one of the attractions a Bailey bobblehead doll giveaway.

"You can do a lot of things," said Bailey, a Hall of Fame jockey, "but in the eyes of my son Justin, I hadn't arrived until they made a bobblehead after me."

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