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Friday, November 4, 2011
Nakatani gets ride to remember


LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Early evening on Nov. 4, and Corey Nakatani headed into the interview room at Churchill Downs. This wasn't just any news conference, but a postrace gathering after the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Nakatani had just ridden the winner.

It's hard to believe that the 41-year-old jockey won only 38 races in 2009 and 46 the year before that. He was sidelined by injuries. Rumors of potential retirement swirled throughout the sport. He hadn't ridden in the Breeders' Cup since 2006.

He returned with a vengeance.

Enjoying his career resurgence with Breeders' Cup victory No. 8, Nakatani made the brilliant 2-year-old My Miss Aurelia his 103rd winner of the season, and the homebred daughter of Smart Strike remained unbeaten in four career starts for owners George Bolton and Stonestreet Stables and trainer Steve Asmussen.

"When you get a chance to compete at the top level, especially in worldwide racing, whether it's Japan or Europe, the Breeders' Cup has always been one of my goals -- to try to put yourself in position to ride horses and win these races," Nakatani said.

My Miss Aurelia was one of two winners on the Nov. 4 card whose victory brought to mind memories of former industry kingpins. The late Jess Jackson, whose Stonestreet campaigned 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, bred the filly in Kentucky through his Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings.

"I know it would mean the world to him to win this one with a homebred, because he was always interested in breeding a racehorse, not just horses for sale, but horses that would win at the track," said Jackson's wife, Barbara Banke.

In the Breeders' Cup's marquee race for fillies, the $2 million Ladies' Classic, trainer Bill Mott and jockey Jose Lezcano teamed up with winner Royal Delta to fulfill the dreams of the late Prince Saud bin Khalid.

"This would have been the absolute ultimate for him," said Karen Woods, who had been a co-owner with the prince. "He was so passionate about the horses. He loved the farm and every horse. He knew them all well. He did all the matings. He was able to see her maiden win, so he knew how good she probably was going to be. Unfortunately, he didn't get to see how great -- it's definitely the best horse he's ever bred."

Khalid died in January; Jackson passed away in April. Today at Churchill, their legacies carried on.

* * *

Perfect Shirl upset the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at odds of 27-1 and Musical Romance took the Filly & Mare Sprint at 20-1. In the Juvenile Fillies Turf, Stephanie's Kitten won for ebullient owner Ken Ramsey when she ran down Mike Repole's Stopshoppingmaria in deep stretch. Bob Baffert saddled four Breeders' Cup starters and was victorious with one of them -- Secret Circle in the inaugural edition of the Juvenile Sprint.

Rain showers stopped early in the morning, and overcast skies gave way to sunshine by midday. Tomorrow's forecast calls for a high of 60 and sunny skies. The action kicks off at 1:20 p.m. and culminates in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic with a post time of 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

These are the races we live for. More of them are on the way.