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With Racing Hall of Fame induction, Nakatani embraces another special Aug. 4

Lava Man, with Corey Nakatani up, winning the 2007 Hollywood Gold Cup.
TheBluZebra, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Lava Man, with Corey Nakatani up, winning the 2007 Hollywood Gold Cup.

Eight new members of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs will be inducted on Friday. The 2023 class includes jockey Corey Nakatani and horses Arrogate, California Chrome and Songbird. Also being inducted via the Historic Review Committee is jockey Fernando Toro, plus Pillars of the Turf selections John Hanes II, Leonard Jerome, and Stella Thayer. Nakatani made his base on the West Coast and was a leading rider at Santa Anita and Delmar. He won nearly 4,000 races, including 10 Breeders’ Cup contests and 341 graded stakes.

What does this honor mean to you?

It means a lot. It means a lot of hard work a lot, a lot of homework. It means a lot of dedication that my wife and my family put up with me for all those years. It means a lot to my mom and my dad. My dad passed away but I've always told them that I’d do the best I could do and I think that this is a tribute to that. In the big picture, when you look at the whole thing, I've always tried to express hard work, don't take no for an answer and desire to be the best. Dreams come true.

Have you thought about what you'll say in your speech yet?

I really haven't thought about it and honestly, I'm the kind of person that just says what's on his mind at the time. And so, I'm going to have a few notes that I just kind of talk to myself before and then just go up there and be human.

Have you ever been to the Hall of Fame before?

I've been to the Hall of Fame when I first started riding. I rode the whole meet at Saratoga the one year and I rode at Belmont.

So, what is the key to being a successful rider?

So, the key to success for me was working. So, I would get on the horses, I would work them. I would convey to the trainers that the horses were doing great, let's try and put them here, let's try and put them there. I grew up from the very beginning with horses by grooming them and getting on them and knowing some of the issues that they had, and being able to feel that and be able to convey it to the trainer. I could feel things on a horse that was happening and conveyed to the trainer or to the groom, and then they would work on it and fix it. A lot of times when I first started riding, that really helped me be able to be better. Then by learning the craft of learning what to do on certain type of horses really helped. So, you have to go out there and put in the work to make the horses better, to be able to help the horse to be able to keep the horse balanced and get the best out of the horse.

You retired about five years ago, following a bad spill. How's your health nowadays?

Doing better. So, originally when I got hurt, I told my son that anytime I get hurt, I would always tell him, 'Don't say what happened' and 'Don't tell anybody what's going on' because that was just my belief that if I told somebody, I broke my back twice. I broke my neck. I broke my atlas, I broke my collarbone, I broke my thumbs, I broke my ankle, I broke my ribs. I would never tell people that I'm hurt. So, the last one was, I didn't have a choice because I told them I hurt my back. Well, I didn't hurt my back, I broke my neck. They had to fuse five vertebrae in my neck with steel rods in the back and in the front. They put the steel plates and screws. I was paralyzed and I couldn't move and I just didn't want people to know that. I didn't want anybody to, you know, feel sorry for me. That type of thing. Unfortunately, I'm not able to get back to riding. I love riding. I would go back if I could, but then my neck is being fused. The doctors will not release me to be able to do that. My head is fused and it won't, I can pick my head up because it’s sticking straight, like tilting forward.

I'm wondering what you think about the future of racing now. Golden Gate Fields in California is going to be closing. You used to ride at Hollywood Park, which is closed. Racing is really under a microscope. Do you think much about where it's going?

I think that the leadership needs to change and they need to have one czar for all of racing, like they do in every other sport. They have a commissioner and that commissioner governs the whole sport, not just one.

I was wondering if you could tell us about your first win.

My first win ever had was it in Tijuana. I rode a horse for Juan Garcia. So, I'll give you some real good history here. It was a dead heat on a horse called Blue King. It was a mile and 5/16ths. We started right in the middle of the clubhouse turn, where the jockey room was, on the outside and you cross onto the main track and you go around one time, and then you come back around again to the wire, and it was a dead heat. So, flip it to 30 years now down the road and my last winner was on a horse for Juan Garcia called Little Juanito. My first win was August 4, and I'm getting inducted in the Hall of Fame on August 4. My accident was August 4. When it started and when it ended.

Thank you for speaking with us. Congratulations on a wonderful career.

Appreciate that. Thank you.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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