04/08/2017 5:46PM

Nakatani guides Hillhouse High to Royal Heroine upset

Benoit & Associates
Corey Nakatani rides Hillhouse High to victory in the Royal Heroine Stakes on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Corey Nakatani always has been one of the best grass riders in the country, and he has regained that slot after a hiatus last year to address weight issues. Now eating better and on a regular workout program, the veteran rider again is showing everyone how it’s done on the turf, as he did Saturday when guiding Hillhouse High to a 7-1 upset in the Grade 2, $200,690 Royal Heroine Stakes for older females at Santa Anita.

Hillhouse High ($16.80), second behind the runaway leader Juno for the first six furlongs of the one-mile race, took over entering the lane and lasted over Mokat to win by a half-length and give trainer Richard Baltas a sweep of the exacta.

Juno was another neck back in third and was followed, in order, by 6-5 favorite Harmonize, Pretty Girl, Prize Exhibit, and Lady Valeur.

Hillhouse High, a daughter of Exchange Rate, completed one mile on firm turf in 1:33.61. It was her fourth victory in 23 starts. She is owned by Golden Eagle Investment LP.

“She had a perfect trip,” said Baltas, who was instrumental in bringing Nakatani back to action after he was away for seven months. “He helped me a lot in the mornings, must have breezed 25 horses,” Baltas said. “His weight is down. He’s a great grass rider. He’s just a great rider.”

Nakatani, 46, has had a 33 percent strike rate with Baltas this meet, their victories including with Goodyearforroses in the Santa Ana, another graded stakes for older females.

This was the fourth Royal Heroine win for Nakatani, whose comeback has been in tandem with his son, Matt, who is his agent.

“I feel good,” Nakatani said. “I’m training hard. My (personal) trainer has broken me down a couple of times but I feel great.”