Jockey Nakatani seeking elusive Kentucky Derby win in 17th trip - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Jockey Nakatani seeking elusive Kentucky Derby win in 17th trip

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Corey Nakatani has been here before.

Sixteen times he has climbed aboard a horse in the Kentucky Derby. He is set to ride Dance With Fate, his 17th mount, in Saturday's race at Churchill Downs.

The 43-year-old jockey has won 3,705 thoroughbred races since 1988. He has two wins in the Kentucky Oaks, and his resume includes finishing first in ten Breeders’ Cup races.

But Nakatani has never won the Derby. He now holds the distinction as the rider with the most starts without a victory in the Run for the Roses.

“Obviously it would be a dream come true since I started riding,” he said. “I’ve had some chances in it.”

Nakatani came closest in 2011 when he piloted Nehro, at 8-1 odds, to a second-place finish behind Animal Kingdom. He was aboard Serena’s Song, who led the 1995 race as the field turned into the stretch before fading to 16th at the wire.

But Nakatani is quick to point out that he’s not had great chances, and he will turn the table in an interview, asking a reporter which of his Derby mounts should have won. Nakatani has ridden one favorite – Serena’s Song – but eight times his horses have faced odds of at least 20-1.

“I’ve done the best I can in the race given the circumstances I’ve been given,” he said.

Nakatani’s introduction to horse racing came after he broke his nose in a wrestling match in 9th grade, and the hospital happened to be near Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., he said. Eventually, his father took him to a farm where he began learning how to ride.

Nakatani has had one more Derby mount than Alex Solis, the Hall of Fame jockey who has been winless in 15 races. Robby Albarado, who will be making his 14th Derby start aboard Medal Count, also has yet to win the race.

Dance With Fate comes into the Derby off a win in last month’s Blue Grass Stakes and ranks third among all contenders in the Derby’s points system. Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia set Dance With Fate’s morning-line odds at 20-1.

Rafael Bejarano rode the horse in all of his races last year, and his first of 2014. Trainer Peter Eurton then switched jockeys – to Aaron Gryder – for February’s El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Park. Dance With Fate finished second.

Nakatani said he approached Eurton after that race and asked for the mount in the Blue Grass, where he said he promised a win.

Nakatani is aware of the popular knocks against Dance With Fate: He has not won in two races on dirt surfaces. No Blue Grass winner has won the Derby since 1991.

But Nakatani likes his horse’s progress. He describes Dance With Fate as talented, smart  and agile – and gentle, when need be. He recalled a moment at Eurton’s barn on the Churchill backside this week when the horse met Nakatani’s daughter.

“How often do you see a horse that goes and kisses a five-year-old?” he asked.

At the same time, Nakatani says Dance With Fate is “very competitive,” and he doesn’t expect the horse to be rattled in the large field for Saturday’s race.

“He’s a horse that I think will thrive in the Derby,” he said.

Eurton, who is training his first Derby horse, said he has been pleased with Dance With Fate heading into the race. He also likes his jockey, who, he notes, has had success in big races at Churchill Downs before.

“Corey is a great money rider. He is a great rider on anything when he puts his mind to it,” Eurton said. “He really seems to be super focused right now. He’s having a great year well before I picked him as the rider for the Blue Grass. …. You can’t knock having Corey Nakatani on your horse.”

Trainer Rick Violette, who is readying Samraat for the Derby, called Nakatani a “great rider” whose long career speaks for itself.

“This is a tough business. … Longevity is a stamp of approval,” Violette said. “If you’re making it here and you’re back year after year – you’re doing something right.”

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