12/12/2009 12:00AM

Lava Man likely out of Native Diver


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Lava Man's expected comeback in Saturday's $100,000 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park is unlikely to happen.

Lava Man's trainer, Doug O'Neill, said on Friday that Lava Man is "not officially" out of the Native Diver, but said he did not see a scenario in which the 8-year-old would run. Intermittent rain began falling in Southern California early Friday and was expected to continue into Saturday. O'Neill said he was reluctant to run Lava Man on a synthetic surface that encountered rain.

"There are too many questions," O'Neill said. "The track is very safe. It's a little different than what he's been training on. We didn't want to take any chances."

O'Neill has until one hour to post time for the Native Diver before he must officially withdraw Lava Man. More than likely, Lava Man will be announced as withdrawn on Saturday morning.

Without Lava Man, the Grade 3 Native Diver over 1 1/8 miles will have just five starters, two of whom are trained by O'Neill: High Court Drama and Square Eddie.

Lava Man's defection makes Mast Track and Neko Bay the joint 116-pound highweights.

None of the five remaining entrants is a stakes winner this year, though Mast Track was beaten a nose in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar in August and expected pacesestter Tres Borrachos was second in the Hollywood Gold Cup in July.

High Court Drama, an Irish-bred 4-year-old colt, won his U.S. debut in an optional claimer here on Nov. 15. Square Eddie is seeking his first win since the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in 2008. He was 10th in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita last month, but will improve around two turns, the trainer said.

"He trains more like a two-turn horse than a sprinter," O'Neill said. "I worried about his lack of fitness and whether he could go two turns for the Breeders' Cup."

Tres Borrachos is winless in four starts since an optional claimer on the main track here on May 25. All three of his career wins have come on Hollywood Park's synthetic track.

Mast Track is winless in nine starts since the 2008 Hollywood Gold Cup. He was second to Native Diver entrant Neko Bay in an allowance race at Santa Anita on Oct. 9.

Neko Bay followed that win with a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 7. His trainer, John Shirreffs, would welcome wet weather.

"Synthetic tracks are always better with rain," Shirreffs said. "They seem to have more bounce."

The Breeders' Cup loss was a disappointment, Shirreffs said. He thought that Neko Bay was too close to the pace, and is more effective when making a late run.

"It wasn't quite what we hoped," Shirreffs said. "He pressed the pace a little too much."

There should be pace for Neko Bay to follow in the Native Diver.

As for Lava Man, he will be pointed for the $150,000 San Gabriel Handicap at Santa Anita on Dec. 27, a race that O'Neill and the partnership that owns the popular gelding hope to use as a prep for the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita on Jan. 30.

Lava Man, the winner of seven Grade 1 races, has not started in 16 months, and was announced as retired in July 2008.

A lot has happened since then, nothing more important than the stem cell procedures designed to regenerate cartilage in his ankles. After that procedure was deemed a success, owners Jason Wood, and Steve, Dave, and Tracy Kenly, along with O'Neill, began to consider a comeback.