02/13/2006 1:00AM

Tanaka stays involved from afar

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Gary Tanaka watched from New York as Star Parade won the Santa Maria at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Gary Tanaka was wondering, just for the sake of argument, that if federal authorities were going to restrict his movements to a particular island while he awaited trial on charges of securities fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering, why it couldn't have been someplace a little more tropical than Manhattan.

"Or at least a little bit warmer," Tanaka said. "I believe this storm brought 27 inches of snow to Central Park."

Compare this to the 80-degree heat wave embracing Santa Anita Park over the weekend, where Tanaka's redoubtable Argentinean mare Star Parade continued to enjoy her second childhood with a two-length victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap, a race she also won in 2004.

For Tanaka, Star Parade embodies a lesson that could benefit any Thoroughbred owner. After a string of nine losses - some of them pretty ugly - she has reemerged among the leaders of her division. In her last three main track starts, the 7-year-old Star Parade has won the Santa Maria, the Bayakoa, and run a close second in the Lady's Secret.

"She hit that dry spell, and most guys would have had more sense than me and sent her off to the breeding shed," Tanaka said. "But sometimes you procrastinate long enough and they turn around. Horses can make you look foolish. When you least expect it they can come through for you."

It was a chilly Monday morning on the isle of Manhattan, and Tanaka was exactly where he had been for the previous nine months - in his son's Manhattan apartment - keeping warm and staying busy with his court defense and the possibilities of his uncertain future.

Tanaka and his business partner, Alberto Vilar, were indicted last May over dealings of their Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc., an international firm that at one point in March 2000 had

$9 billion under management, according to a 14-page article in the current issue of The New Yorker.

The piece focuses primarily on the flamboyant Vilar, while the low-key Tanaka is mentioned only a few times and never quoted.

"He wasn't really advised to make statements for an article like that," Tanaka said of Vilar. "Two things could happen. One, you can tip off the prosecution as to what your defense might be. And also, you could put your foot in your mouth, because you might say something that could be used against you."

The terms of Tanaka's bail require him not only to stay in Manhattan, where his case will be tried in U.S. District Court, but also limit how much time he can spend away from the apartment, and only during daylight hours. Tanaka, a Japanese-American who was born in a World War II internment camp in Idaho, has homes in London and San Francisco.

"My son's place is in a decent neighborhood, so I really can't complain," Tanaka said. "Still, it would be nice if I could saunter out to Belmont or Aqueduct, but these guys are really making it tough. I guess they think, well, the airport is close by the racetracks, and the next thing you know I'd be on a flight to Afghanistan or somewhere. I think they're used to dealing with drug dealers and gun runners."

Even with his trial approaching and his business world turned upside down, Tanaka says he still spends about "a quarter of my time on horse racing - watching, planning, scheming."

Tanaka is known for his canny purchases of proven talent, then taken to the next level by one of a number of American or European trainers. Usually, he keeps his purchases in the hands that made them valuable in the first place.

Tanaka made his first splash on the American racing scene in the mid-1990's with such stakes winners as Dernier Empereur, Party Cited, and Blues Traveller. His horses have been campaigned by a variety of trainers, including Bobby Frankel, Neil Drysdale, and Ron McAnally, and he has won Eclipse Awards with champion older mare Gourmet Girl (trained by Pico Perdomo) in 2001 and champion turf mare Golden Apples (trained by Ben Cecil) in 2002.

Even while under a technical form of "house arrest" for half of 2005, Tanaka had a good season on the racetrack with Star Parade and Sword Dancer Stakes winner King's Drama in the U.S., and with the widely traveled European star Rakti. More recently, he purchased the 4-year-old Dixie Meister out of the Steve Asmussen stable and will run him in California with trainer Julio Canani.

As for Star Parade, she has now topped a million dollars in earnings, most of it earned since Tanaka purchased her from trainer Darrell Vienna in early 2004. Vienna,

who imported Star Parade from Argentina, has continued to train her.

"What usually happens is that these South Americans cannot reproduce good group race form up north," Tanaka said. "In her case, it's been just the opposite. She could just barely win a maiden race in five starts down there, but here she's gone up about 10 notches."

Star Parade could surface next in the Santa Margarita at Santa Anita, or she might take a third shot at

the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn. Tanaka, in the meantime, knows exactly where he will be for the race.

"With racing on television and input from phone calls, I feel like I'm keeping up pretty good," he said. "But that's not the same. I miss being out there very much."