09/18/2008 12:00AM

Tanaka ready for his day in court

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For Gary Tanaka, owner of such international stars as Golden Apples, Rakti, and Caitano, Monday marks either the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning. He doesn't care which, as long as he gets his day in court.

Since May 2005, Tanaka has been not-so-free on bail after a variety of charges were brought by the federal government in connection with his former company, Amerindo Investment Advisors. His former partner Alberto Vilar also was charged.

Those charges, however, have shriveled in both volume and enthusiasm, as federal attorneys dragged out the case while apparently attempting to bolster the testimony of their star witness, Amerindo investor Lily Cates Naify. Postponement after postponement turned a headline-grabbing indictment alleging misappropriated funds into what could end up as nothing more than a shaky case of overly zealous prosecution.

Maybe. After 3 1/2 years, though, Tanaka is taking nothing for granted. When jury selection begins Monday in the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan's Foley Square, Tanaka is hoping for the best and preparing himself for anything less.

"We don't think they have much of a case," Tanaka said this week from his oldest son's Manhattan apartment, where he has been living. "But you never know, especially when a jury vote is involved. You really can't predict the course of events."

Although his company was based in New York, Tanaka and his family reside in London. This, in the eyes of federal authorities, made him a flight risk, even though Great Britain has been pretty good about returning fugitives from the U.S. justice system when politely asked. Because of this, Tanaka was fitted with an electronic monitor through the early stages of his ordeal and restricted to just a few hours out and about each day, primarily to attend to either legal business or medical needs.

As the case dragged on, the restrictions on Tanaka's movements were loosened. Now, he must be home each day no later than midnight. This is monitored through automated phone calls that can come at any time through the wee hours of the morning. When Tanaka answers, there is nothing on the other end of the line except a voice ID recorder. He is sometimes tempted to tell the recorder exactly what he thinks.

But he doesn't, which is typical Tanaka. Low-key and buttoned down, Tanaka has always flown beneath the radar when it comes to his successful racing ventures, which includes victories in such noteworthy domestic events as the Man o' War, the Mother Goose, the Yellow Ribbon, the Beverly D., the Sword Dancer, the Matriarch, and the San Juan Capistrano. Tanaka has been able to maintain his racing interests while negotiating the legal maze, keeping the stable focused on a fairly simple game plan. He does not reach for the Kentucky Derby dream. He is never a presence at headline auctions. He does not maintain an expensive band of broodmares. Instead, Tanaka prefers to purchase European runners who have proven themselves just enough to suggest an untapped upside with an eye toward international opportunities. Many of them end up running in the United States.

Tanaka's 2008 racing fortunes have seemed to roller coaster along the same lines as his legal battles. The high point was a victory by Proudinsky last March in the $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap. The low point came in August, when Tanaka's Arlington Million hopeful injured a tendon a few days before the race.

His horses also were dramatically involved in two of the most significant American grass races of the season, and with a very little tweak to either scenario, Tanaka could have made unusual history.

In the Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park, all eyes were on Curlin, who was making his turf debut. Tanaka watched in frustration as his runner Sudan was pressured through the first half of the 11-furlong event by the 38-1 longshot Mission Approved as they distanced themselves from the more sober-minded members of the field. Eventually, Mission Improved stopped like a cheap watch, while Sudan soldiered on to be fourth, beaten a bit more than three lengths by Red Rocks. After all that, runner-up Curlin finished only 1 1/4 lengths in front of Sudan.

Then, last Saturday at Monmouth Park, Proudinsky came within a neck of beating Big Brown in the $500,000 Monmouth Stakes.

"He looked a little bit too far back at first, but the fractions were pretty hot, so the jock was right," Tanaka said. "In the last furlong, I let myself think, 'Maybe he is gonna get him.' I guess Big Brown is pretty good on the grass after all."

Tanaka, ever mindful of his midnight curfew, still made the drive to Oceanport for Proudinsky's race. He hadn't been to Monmouth in years.

"I remember going to the races in New Jersey when Garden State was still around," he said. "I did have a few people come up and say it was nice to see me, which makes you feel good."

An upset would have been sweeter still, but Proudinksy will be back, perhaps in the Kelso Handicap next weekend at Belmont or the Shadwell Mile on Oct. 4 at Keeneland. In the meantime, Tanaka can be found at the courthouse. At long last.