05/10/2006 11:00PM

Forced to keep his distance

Email

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - For a guy under house arrest, his activities restricted and his trial date still months away, Gary Tanaka is on a roll.

Well, his horses, anyway. For the past few weeks, the Tanaka stable has been knocking off prizes with giddy regularity. As April ended, the Tanaka-owned Pelligrino took the Elkorn Handicap and Noble Stella won the Bewitch Handicap to wrap up the Keeneland meet. Then last Sunday, Hallowed Dream ventured to Golden Gate Fields to win the Yerba Buena Handicap, while Star Parade stayed home at Hollywood Park to run away with the Hawthorne Handicap.

"Yeah, we're doing okay," Tanaka said. "But you've got to make hay while you can. Remember how Charlie Whittingham said they spoil like strawberries. You think, Wow, then you hit that drought. Rags or riches. You just have to accept it."

Winning and losing horse races would seem like small potatoes to Tanaka right now. Along with former partner Alberto Vilar, Tanaka was indicted in May of 2005 on federal charges of fraud and money-laundering, in connection with their company, Amerindo Investment Advisors. Two new charges were filed in January, which led to a prosecution request for the postponement of an mid-April trial date. By the time Tanaka sees the inside of a courtroom, he will have been under tight restrictions for nearly a year and a half.

"The date is now Oct. 3, but that's like chalk on a blackboard," Tanaka said. "If it wasn't happening to you it might be funny, and you could write a book."

Under the terms of his house arrest, Tanaka is living with his son's family in their reasonably comfortable Manhattan apartment. When venturing out in public, he is not allowed to wander far, nor for long.

"The restrictions are loosening up gradually, but grudgingly," Tanaka said. "It's like these guys are almost vindictive, trying to keep things like they were when this started, while they try to get the goods on you."

With horses placed at a number of tracks, with several trainers, Tanaka was always a candidate to pop up for a big event between time spent at home in London or San Francisco.

"I miss the races," Tanaka said. "It's fun to be there, and when your trainers win for you, you want to be there to pat them on the back and shake their hand. Like this, it feels like I'm being indifferent and unappreciative.

"Between watching my investments, the races, and my grandkids I've got enough distractions," Tanaka added. "If I think too much about my situation, I can get depressed. So I try to look ahead."

Tanaka will be focused on Hollywood Park this Saturday, where King's Drama carries his colors against Irish invader Grey Swallow in the $250,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on the new turf course. King's Drama, a 6-year-old son of King's Theatre, comes into the Murray off a victory in the San Luis Rey at Santa Anita.

"He's a cute guy, too, with a pink nose," Tanaka noted. "Back in the days when I was a little more free, I remember going into his stall at Arlington Park. He didn't push me around or bite me, so I figured this guy is really laid-back. You could sleep in his stall."

Tanaka has not been able to see King's Drama in person since the 2004 season, which King's Drama began in France with Robert Collet and ended in New York with Bobby Frankel. Before that, King's Drama had a brief American tour in the 2003 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs and the Secretariat Stakes in Chicago.

Frankel and King's Drama began to click in 2005 with victories in the Sword Dancer at Belmont, the Red Smith at Aqueduct, and a close second in the Man o' War. King's Drama also took to the road, finishing up the track in the Japan Cup and eighth on a yielding course in the Canadian International.

Grey Swallow was third that day at Woodbine, and boasts a record that includes victories in the Irish Derby (over Epsom Derby winner North Light) and the Tattersalls Gold Cup (beating Arc de Triomphe winner Bago). Still, he gets a pound from King's Drama in the Murray, 122-121.

"It's a little funny, since back in Europe King's Drama was a Grade 3 guy and Grey Swallow was obviously a Grade 1 horse," Tanaka said. "You could make a case that the weights are wrong by five pounds. I guess they're giving a lot of tolerance to the fact that he is traveling and playing on somebody else's court.

"And I'm sure the track wants to attract guys who do these ambitious things, like Grey Swallow," Tanaka went on. "Maybe part of the weight is an encouragement factor. But you wonder how Grey Swallow will run - will he bring his form with him?

"As far as my guy is concerned, he doesn't need any particular kind of ground," Tanaka added. "Even though he won the Sword Dancer, I'm not sure he's a true mile-and-a-half horse. Maybe more like a mile and three-eighths. But he is everything you like in a horse - consistent, solid, genuine, and all heart."