History packs irony for visiting Arlington jockey Corey Nakatani
By TINA AKOURIS email@example.com July 6, 2011 9:34PM
“I always ride and put my horse in a spot to win. I’m not one who lacks confidence in my horses.” ~ COREY NAKATANI, who is riding this summer at Arlington | Four Footed Fotos
Updated: July 7, 2011 2:15AM
Nationally known jockey Corey Nakatani thinks it’s ironic that his home racetrack — Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. — was the site of a relocation camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. In fact, his father lived in the camp in 1942.
But that is in the past. Nakatani, who is riding this summer at Arlington Park, doesn’t like to make a big deal about that part of his family history.
Nakatani’s father, Roy, was born in an internment camp in Colorado before the family moved to the Santa Anita camp. Santa Anita served as a relocation camp from March to September of 1942. Roy Nakatani died of a heart attack in 1997.
‘‘My dad was a baby, so it really didn’t affect him,’’ Nakatani said. ‘‘My grandpa was the one who was in the camp with my grandmother. I spoke to them a little bit about it, but they didn’t like to talk about it.
‘‘But [my grandfather] told me when he was in the camp at Santa Anita they gave him ginseng roots to eat. We know now that ginseng root gives you energy, but back then I didn’t know if they knew. We giggled about it and laughed about it.’’
There is a plaque at Santa Anita that acknowledges the track was a relocation camp during WWII, and the track hosts an annual Japanese heritage day. Obviously, those things aren’t lost on Nakatani.
‘‘I’m making a living at a racetrack where, when my grandfather was there, they took everything he had,’’ Nakatani said. ‘‘It’s just kind of weird that that’s where I ended up working.’’
Nakatani, 40, came to Arlington on June 1, three weeks after he finished second in the Kentucky Derby aboard Nehro. In 95 starts at Arlington through Monday, Nakatani had won 20. He also had 20 seconds and 15 thirds, and his mounts had earned $521,188 in purse money.
‘‘I’ve had a really good rapport with [Arlington chairman Dick] Duchossois, and there’s a lot of good horsemen out here,’’ said Nakatani, who has won more than 3,000 races in his career. ‘‘And it’s also an opportunity to come out to the Midwest and ride out here.’’
And the pairing of Nakatani with trainer Scott Becker has resulted in four victories, five runner-up finishes and five third-place finishes in 24 starts.
‘‘He’s a proven professional, and he tells you what you need to know about the horse,’’ Becker said. ‘‘And he’s a gentleman. Everywhere he goes, he’s a winner.”
Arlington has been good to Nakatani — to a point. He is hoping to race in the prestigious Arlington Million on Aug. 13, a race he has ridden in eight times but never has won. He finished second in 2000 and 2002.
Nakatani was a 15-year-old wrestler when he saw his first horse race. He had broken his nose in a wrestling tournament, and after his father took him to the hospital for treatment, they went across the street to Santa Anita and watched the races.
‘‘I asked my dad, ‘Do those guys [the jockeys] make money?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I think so,’ ’’ Nakatani said. ‘‘Then that summer I went to learn about horses and started grooming them and riding them. I was working at a place in Temecula [Calif.], and it was at a training center. I got a lot of experience.
‘‘I always ride and put my horse in a spot to win. I’m not one who lacks confidence in my horses. I just go out there and put them in a position to win, and hopefully we’ll be good enough to win some races.’’