06/30/2007 12:00AM

Lava Man by nose in Gold Cup


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The fighter in Lava Man carried the popular 6-year-old gelding to a record-equaling victory in Saturday’s $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park.

Lava Man won the Gold Cup by a nose over A.P. Xcellent in a race that fully lived up to high expectations. With the victory, Lava Man became the second horse to win three consecutive runnings of Hollywood Park's signature race. Native Diver won the Gold Cup three times from 1965-67.

Lava Man ($4.80) needed nearly all of the mile and a quarter distance to reach the front. He put away a stubborn pacesetter in A.P. Xcellent in the final 30 yards under jockey Corey Nakatani to win the Gold Cup by a nose, the same margin as the 2006 running.

Lava Man finished 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.21.

Big Booster, a former claimer and 24-1 outsider, rallied from last in a field of nine to finish third, three-quarters of a length behind Lava Man. Molengao, who won the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap here in May, and was considered a leading threat to Lava Man, finished in a dead heat with Porfido for fourth.

The victory was Lava Man's 13th stakes win for owners Jason Wood and the Kenly Family's STD Racing, the 17th win in his 40-race career, and improved his career earnings to $5,189,706. Trained by Doug O’Neill, Lava Man was claimed by his current connections for $50,000 in August 2004.

Lava Man, who carried topweight of 124 pounds, was always near the front. He tracked A.P. Xcellent (116 pounds) through a slow pace of 24.19 and 48.75 seconds, trailing by 2 1/2 lengths on the backstretch. Nakatani moved Lava Man within a length at the end of the backstretch and drew alongside A.P. Xcellent on the final turn.

Nakatani was surprised that Lava Man did not take over the race on the final turn.

"I think having a target was key for Lava Man," Nakatani said. "Turning for home, I didn't get the response I wanted because of the pace. The pace was so slow. I thought if I was close enough Lava Man's heart would get him to the wire."

Nakatani's intuition was correct. A.P. Xcellent led by a head with a quarter-mile remaining and a furlong from the finish, but he could not hold off the best handicap horse in California.

Golden Noodle wins maiden in Landaluce

The Golden Noodle, a maiden and the third-longest shot in a field of nine, rallied from eighth to win the $111,000 Landaluce Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.

The Golden Noodle ($68.60) pulled clear in the final furlong under jockey Clinton Potts to win the six-furlong stakes by 3 1/2 lengths over Treadmill in 1:11.49. Treadmill finished 1 1/2 lengths in front of Set Play, who led briefly in the stretch.

Owned by Bill Feeley and trained by Jack Van Berg, The Golden Noodle was making her third start, having finished third and second in her first two starts. The Golden Noodle has earned $81,32. She will be pointed for the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 3, Van Berg said.