11/01/2004 12:00AM

Mitchell earns first title in California since 1997


ARCADIA, Calif. - Jockey Corey Nakatani won his second consecutive riding title at a major Southern California meeting and trainer Mike Mitchell ended a seven-year drought between titles at the five-week Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting that ended on Sunday.

Nakatani finished with 21 wins, two more than Victor Espinoza and three more than Tyler Baze and Rene Douglas.

Mitchell won the 15th title of his career with 13 wins, two more than Doug O'Neill. Bobby Frankel finished third with 10.

Nakatani, who was the leading rider at Del Mar in the summer, missed a few days because of out-of-town stakes commitments, including a trip to Lone Star Park, where he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies on Sweet Catomine.

"Making so many trips out of town, you hope you have accumulated enough wins to stay on top," he said. "I was glad to win the title at Del Mar and now this."

Mitchell won his first title since the 1997 spring-summer meeting at Hollywood Park. During Oak Tree, Mitchell won races at all levels, including the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Turf Championship with Star Over the Bay.

Mitchell got off to a quick start, winning with 6 of his first 9 starters.

"I remember when the first condition book came out there were good spots for my horses," Mitchell said. "We had racing luck and were in the right races. I started out well but I didn't finish that well. Fortunately, I had enough horses to hold on."

Mitchell said winning a title at the Hollywood Park meeting that begins on Wednesday could be difficult.

"I may be a little slower," he said. "I've got some young horses that I'm looking forward to running. Hopefully, I've got some horses with something left in the tank."

Business comparisons from this meet to last year's are difficult to make since the track hosted the Breeders' Cup last year.

Oak Tree executive vice president Sherwood Chillingworth said without factoring in the Breeders' Cuo, the meeting had an increase in ontrack average attendance of 9 percent, to 9,681. It was the first increase in that category since 1998, he said.

"We spent a lot of money this year," on marketing, Chillingworth said.

Precise handle figures were not available on Monday. Chillingworth said all-sources handle fell 1.5 percent and that ontrack handle was down 1 percent.

Chillingworth said an analysis will be made in coming months on whether the pick five, new to Oak Tree this year, should be offered again next year.