12/08/2011 3:13PM

Aqueduct: Nakatani headed back to California

Justin N. Lane
Corey Nakatani's 2011 season highlights include riding the star 2-year-old filly My Miss Aurelia in the Breeders' Cup.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Corey Nakatani was all set to spend the winter in New York, until he got an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Thus, after he rides at Aqueduct on Friday and then makes a one-day stopover at Remington Park on Friday, Nakatani will return to Southern California where he will ride first-call for trainer Steve Asmussen during the Santa Anita meet which begins Dec. 26. Nakatani will actually begin riding at Hollywood Park on Wednesday and is scheduled to ride Handsome Mike for Doug O’Neill in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity on Dec. 17.

“Julien [Leparoux] was going to go to California. When Julien went to Florida he contacted me and we went that way,’’ Nakatani, 41, said Thursday, about two hours before he rode Peggy Jane to victory for Asmussen in the second at Aqueduct.

Asmussen plans to keep some of his better horses in Southern California, including the 2-year-old Sabercat, who won the Delta Jackpot last month. Asmussen also trains Nehro, the Kentucky Derby runner-up who is based at Fair Grounds, but whom Nakatani will ride whenever he comes back to the races.

“I’m really excited to see he’s back,’’ Nakatani said. “I think he could be the top handicap horse of the year.’’

In a sense, Nakatani in 2011 proved he is back. After injury-plagued years in 2008 and 2009 – where he rode 84 winners combined – Nakatani won 102 races in 2010 and 105 so far this year. He won five Grade 1 stakes this year, including the Forego aboard Jackson Bend and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and Frizette on My Miss Aurelia.

“I’m healthy now,’’ Nakatani said. “A lot of times I rode with injuries; you can’t say anything about it because it hurts your business.’’

Nakatani, who spent the majority of his career in Southern California, this past summer came to Saratoga, where he rode 13 winners from 73 mounts, tying for ninth in the standings. He enjoyed a strong Belmont meet – which included a six-win day on Oct. 8 – winning 21 races from 94 mounts, tying for sixth in the standings.

Nakatani had a disappointing Aqueduct fall meet with just 2 wins from 45 mounts. Last weekend, he traveled to Trinidad and Tabago, where he was thrown from a horse prior to a race. He eventually rode that horse and another before he felt his body start to stiffen up on him. Following a seven-hour plane ride back to New York, Nakatani could barely move when he arrived here and took off his Sunday mounts.

“My pelvis was so tilted from flying,’’ said Nakatani, who underwent some chiropractic work before returning to action Wednesday.

Nakatani, who will be represented by Ron Anderson, will likely ride in Southern California through April before returning to New York for the Belmont Park meet.

Mineralogist upsets Soft Morning

Mineralogist, under David Cohen, rallied from last to win Thursday’s $60,000 Soft Morning Stakes by a neck over Opus A, who had broken through the starting gate prior to the official start of the race. It was 3 1/2 lengths back to odds-on favorite Spa City Princess in third.

Mineralogist, a 4-year-old daughter of Mineshaft, was coming off two disappointing efforts at Belmont Park – including a ninth-place finish in the Ticonderoga on turf – before returning to a race around two turns. In her previous start around two turns, Mineralogist won the Saratoga Dew Stakes at Saratoga.

Mineralogist, trained by John Kimmel for owners/breeders Chester and Mary Broman, covered the mile and 70 yards in 1:44.09 and returned $29.40 as the longest price in the field.

Mineralogist is now 5 for 13 and has earned $264,550.