01/30/2006 12:00AM

Big Cap might be next up for Lava Man

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Da Stoops wins by 7 1/2 lengths in Saturday's Sunshine Millions Dash.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Lava Man's convincing win in the $1 million at Santa Anita was seen by trainer Doug O'Neill as a revival of Lava Man's tumultuous career.

An ex-claimer, Lava Man won the Californian Stakes and the Hollywood Gold Cup last summer, making him an outside contender at the time for champion older horse of the year. He did not win again for the rest of 2005, failing to figure in the championship ballot. After finishing third in the Pacific Classic in August, Lava Man had two horrible performances in the fall - a seventh in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park in October and an 11th in the Japan Cup Dirt in Tokyo in November.

Those disappointments were forgotten after Saturday's race against California-breds and Florida-breds.

Under jockey Corey Nakatani, Lava Man took advantage of a furious pace, rallying from fourth to win by 2 1/4 lengths over the Florida-bred shipper Whos Crying Now. Lava Man earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 98.

The victory left O'Neill and owners Jason Wood and Steve, Tracy, and Dave Kenley planning to start Lava Man in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 4. A 5-year-old, Lava Man is already proven at the Santa Anita Handicap distance of 1 1/4 miles, having won the Hollywood Gold Cup over that trip last summer.

O'Neill conveyed a sense of relief after the Sunshine Millions, saying he felt as if his prerace thoughts that Lava Man was training well had proved correct.

"Sure, he was training great, but after they run a couple of clunkers . . ." O'Neill said, letting the sentence trail off. "This game is full of excuses when you don't run good, and I was just worried that maybe I was making up too many whoppers."

Lava Man will have a California-based campaign this year. O'Neill, who often ships for stakes around the country - and sometimes around the world - said he does not feel that Lava Man is the sort who can handle a journey effectively. He cited the two losses last fall as proof.

"We're not anxious to ship after the experience in Japan," O'Neill said.

Lava Man has won 8 of 28 starts and $1,584,706. He was claimed by his current connections for $50,000 in August 2004.

"He's a blue-collar kind of horse," O'Neill said. "It doesn't matter what you pay for [a horse] - they have a chance to win a race like this."

Da Stoops this year's Lost in the Fog?

Da Stoops's easy win in the $250,000 led trainer Bob Baffert to compare him to Lost in the Fog, the champion sprinter of 2005.

The two have one thing in common - they both won the Sunshine Millions Dash. Lost in the Fog won the 2005 Dash at Gulfstream Park by 4 1/2 lengths. Da Stoops won Saturday's race by 7 1/2 lengths, his second restricted stakes win of the meeting.

"He reminds me a little of Lost in the Fog, the way he has world-class speed," Baffert said.

Da Stoops won the California Breeders' Champion Stakes for California-breds here in late December. Baffert said Da Stoops could have won Saturday's race by a wider margin if he had not been drawn on the rail.

"If he would have been outside, we would have won by 10," Baffert said.

Baffert said Da Stoops will remain in sprints, but said that he had no specific goals.

Giacomo still questionable for Strub

Giacomo, the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner, is not a certainty to make his comeback in Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Strub Stakes. Even if he does run, he will not scare away the competition.

As of Sunday, the race had nine probable starters besides Giacomo: Canteen, Distorted, Dixie Meister, Greeley's Galaxy, High Limit, Hockey the General, Top This and That, Ulistnintome, and Wilko.

The Strub Stakes is run at 1 1/8 miles for 4-year-olds and is a leading prep for the Santa Anita Handicap.

Giacomo, unraced since finishing seventh in the Belmont Stakes, has been training regularly for a comeback since November following surgery in June to have bone chips removed from an ankle and knee.

Trainer John Shirreffs said he is considering the Strub Stakes or an allowance race for Giacomo's first start of the year.

Trotamondo out of San Antonio

Trotamondo, the winner of the Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park in December, will miss Sunday's $250,000 San Antonio Handicap because of a bruised foot suffered in the last month, trainer Laura de Seroux said.

A 5-year-old Chilean-bred, Trotamondo won his first stakes in the U.S. in the Native Diver. He has resumed working after a layoff, but will not be ready for the San Antonio, which is run at 1 1/8 miles.

"It came at a time when I needed to work," de Seroux said of the injury.

The San Antonio lacks a standout. The probable starters are Badge of Silver, Bully Hayes, Calkins Road, Mambo Train, Molengao, Spellbinder, and Turnbolt.

De Seroux said that Trotamondo is not out of the Santa Anita Handicap picture despite the recent setback.

"I'll toy with the idea of training up to the Santa Anita Handicap," she said.

Saturday's program also features the $100,000 Sham Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles. The race will have a short field. Trainer Bob Baffert has two hopefuls - Bob and John and Point Determined - who will be opposed by Genre and Hawkinsville.

Jauregui injures back in spill

Jockey Luis Jauregui remained hospitalized over the weekend after suffering a back injury in a spill in Thursday's eighth race. Jauregui, 36, was thrown from He's a Triehr when He's a Triehr veered in at the start of a six-furlong race and struck a temporary rail.

According to Jauregui's agent, Alex Procel, Jauregui suffered a broken vertebra and a bruised kidney. Jauregui, who is winless with 22 mounts at the meeting, is expected to miss several months of racing.

Island Fashion to Canani barn

Island Fashion, the millionaire mare owned by Everest Stable, has been transferred to trainer Julio Canani. She was previously trained by Marcelo Polanco through most of her career.

Canani said that Island Fashion is galloping and will resume workouts this week. She has not started since finishing third in the Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park in December.