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Nakatani wins big Oak Tree opener

Times Staff Writer

Corey Nakatani, who won the jockey title at last year’s Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita, got off to a good start Wednesday by riding Dancing Edie to victory in the Grade III $114,900 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap, the opening-day feature.

“I’m 36 and not getting any younger,” Nakatani said. “Winning a riding title is always an incentive. I’ve been the leading rider here a few times [four] and hope to get the opportunity to do it again.”

It was also a winning day for David Flores and Victor Espinoza, the only double winners.

Flores closed strongly aboard Cherokee Tear to win the ninth race by a nose over Lutyens and Martin Garcia.

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The other big winner of the day, which drew a crowd of 15,027, was Santa Anita’s new synthetic Cushion Track.

“It did exactly what it was supposed to do,” track President Ron Charles said. “It’s safety first and fairness and consistency second, and that’s what we saw today.

“It really seems to hold up well from the morning to the afternoon. The horses that run the fastest in the morning [in workouts] run the fastest in the afternoon.”

The speed of the track was in evidence in the third race when Johnny Eves, ridden by Flores, covered six furlongs in a very fast 1:08.05.

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Del Mar President Joe Harper, who was at Santa Anita for opening day, was talking with trainer Bob Baffert at the time.

“I was kidding Bob they’re going to have to get a higher grade of fuel for the ambulance to keep up with the horses at this rate,” Harper said.

The first race on the Cushion Track was a $15,000 claimer at 1 1/16 miles. Alfonso Quinonez, who rode the winner, Si Chimi, said, “I have been working horses over the track and it was fast in the mornings, but the other day when it rained, it was totally different. So today, I was kind of worried.

“I didn’t want to go to the front because I didn’t know if my horse was going to get tired or if he was going to keep up in the front, but he handled it pretty good.

“This track feels good and it feels safe. That’s the main thing. This track right now is pretty much like it is in the mornings. It’s pretty fast, and it looks like it’s the same today. Off one race, it seems even and fair.”

Richard Migliore, who rode Royal Classic in the first race and won aboard Flight Leader on the Cushion Track in the fourth, said, “I really like this track, it feels good. There’s a lot of similarity to Hollywood Park. Even though those horses went legitimate fractions, nobody really melted down late. They’re handling it fine.

“It seems like the material has a little finer consistency to it than Hollywood.”

larry.stewart@latimes.com

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