07/04/2006 11:00PM

Inside post for Lava Man in Gold Cup

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The post position draw for Saturday's $750,000 was not kind to Lava Man, who will go off as a strong favorite.

The defending champion, and the top older horse in California, Lava Man drew the rail in a field of five. His trainer, Doug O'Neill, would have preferred a post on the outside in the small field.

"He seems to run his best races outside of horses," O'Neill said.

Lava Man has drawn outside posts in several of his recent starts, but he has done well from the inside. Lava Man broke from post 2 in a field of 12 in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita in January. He won by 2 1/4 lengths after getting to the outside on the backstretch.

Last summer, Lava Man drew post 3 in a field of 11 in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He was pressured throughout and finished third, three-quarters of a length behind Borrego.

The Gold Cup is the feature race on Saturday's 11-race program, which also includes the $350,000 Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles. The Grade 2 Swaps drew only four: the first three finishers of the Affirmed Handicap on June 17 - Point Determined,

A. P. Warrior, and Arson Squad - and Potential, the winner of a maiden claimer on June 17.

The small field in the Gold Cup may work to Lava Man's advantage. He is the lone front-runner in the field. The style has helped Lava Man build a four-race winning streak, which includes Grade 1 wins this year in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in March and the Charles Whittingham Handicap on turf on June 10. In both races, he led or disputed the pace throughout.

In post position order, Lava Man faces Magnum, the winner of the Lone Star Park Handicap in Texas on May 29; Seek Gold, the upset winner of the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 17; Ace Blue, who was stakes-placed in northern California earlier this year; and Super Frolic, who was second in the Californian Stakes on June 17.

Lava Man will carry top weight of 124 pounds and will be ridden by Corey Nakatani, who has been aboard for all of the 5-year-old gelding's starts this year.

That's an Outrage, who finished third in the Californian Stakes, was expected to run. But his trainer, Mike Puhich, said That's an Outrage "is not 100 percent."