07/01/2006 12:00AM

Lava Man heavy Gold Cup favorite

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Lava Man, the top older horse in California, appears to have run off most of his competition.

Saturday, Lava Man will attempt to defend his title in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park, a race that may have only five starters.

Aside from Lava Man, the Gold Cup contenders are Magnum, the winner of the Lone Star Park Handicap on May 29; Super Frolic and That's an Outrage, the second- and third-place finishers in the Californian Stakes on June 17; and possibly Seek Gold, the 91-1 winner of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 17.

Lava Man will be a short-priced favorite in the Gold Cup, which is run at 1 1/4 miles. Trained by Doug O'Neill, Lava Man will be attempting to win his fifth consecutive race, all of which have come this year.

Earlier this year, Lava Man won the Sunshine Millions Classic and Santa Anita Handicap at Santa Anita. At this meeting, he has won two stakes on turf - the Khaled

Stakes and the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap. Lava Man, 5, has won 11 of 31 starts and $2,454,706.

The Gold Cup drew only nine nominations, a shockingly low number for such a lucrative race. Two nominees - Lucky J.H. and Spellbinder - are more likely to start in the $300,000 San Diego Handicap at 1 1/16 miles at Del Mar on July 22.

Trainer Carla Gaines said she was leaning toward the San Diego with Lucky J.H., who won the Tiznow Stakes and Ack Ack Handicap at this meeting.

Two other nominees - Ace Blue and Capitano - have run on turf in recent starts. Trainer Ray Bell said Capitano would be considered for the Gold Cup if the race "falls apart."

A horse can be supplemented to the race for $15,000 when entries close on Wednesday.

Saturday's card also includes the $350,000 Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes at 1 1/8 miles. The top race for 3-year-olds at this meeting, the Swaps will also have a small field.

The first three finishers of the Affirmed Handicap - Point Determined, A. P. Warrior, and Arson Squad - are expected to start. The race drew only seven nominations, including Wanna Runner, who was 10th as the favorite in the Queen's Plate Stakes at Woodbine on June 25.

Potential, who won a maiden claimer at 64-1 on June 17, may start in the Swaps, but is also being considered for the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar on July 19, trainer Laura Wohlers said.