01/13/2010 1:00AM

Nakatani shifts tack, with eye on Derby


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Jockey Corey Nakatani has come to Oaklawn Park with two objectives: to win the riding title and secure a mount for the Kentucky Derby. Nakatani, who since 1989 has been based in Southern California, said he is setting up shop in the Midwest.

"I've bought a house in Kentucky," he said. "I'm going to ride Oaklawn, then go back to Keeneland and ride the Keeneland meet, ride at Churchill and go to Saratoga in the summer.

"I just wanted to get back on top, and I think the opportunities are back East."

Nakatani, 39, is a career winner of 3,296 races and $189 million in purses. He has won the Kentucky Oaks twice, aboard Lite Light in 1991 and Pike Place Dancer in 1996. Nakatani has also won seven Breeders' Cup races, including three consecutive editions of the Sprint from 1996-1998 with Lit de Justice, Elmhurst and Reraise. Other top mounts for him in recent years include $5 million earner Lava Man and Global Hunter, with whom he won the Grade 1 Eddie Read on in July.

But for the past three months, Nakatani has not ridden in a race. His last mount was Oct. 15, at Santa Anita.

"What I needed to do was take some time off to move my family," he said. "I could have started riding a month ago, but I had a lot of business to tighten up."

Nakatani arrived at Oaklawn the first week of January, and has been working horses for a number of different trainers, including Steve Hobby, Tim Ritchey, and Mac Robertson. He has also visited with trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who like Nakatani was previously based in Southern California.

Hobby said Nakatani has made a favorable impression at Oaklawn.

"He's very personable," Hobby said. "He's well respected. He's a big-time rider, and that's got to be a plus to our jockey colony. We want all the better riders we can get to give us all some choices."

Nakatani is being represented by Jay Fedor. The two were introduced by a mutual friend, trainer Wayne Catalano, who this past fall won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita with She Be Wild.

Nakatani liked the idea of wintering at Oaklawn because it has been a hotbed for 3-year-olds in recent years. He also has won some major stakes at the track, including the Fantasy in 1991 with Lite Light and the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap in 1999 with Reraise.

"I just think between Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Rachel Alexandra going that way, a lot of good horses are going through there," he said. "I figure if I'm based there I might be able to get an opportunity to ride those kinds of horses.

"I want to win the Derby. It's a dream that I'd like to try to fulfill."