07/09/2006 11:00PM

Lava Man off to Pacific Classic

Lava Man (right), beating Ace Blue by a nose in the Hollywood Gold Cup, is 5 for 5 this year, all in stakes.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Lava Man, who successfully defended his title in Saturday's $750,000 , will always be known as the ex-claimer who became a multiple Grade 1 stakes winner.

The novelty of that accomplishment will be replaced by a full-fledged attempt at the Horse of the Year title, beginning with a run at the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 20.

Unbeaten in five starts this year, all stakes, Lava Man's success has raised expectations for his owners, STD Racing Stable and Jason Wood, and trainer, Doug O'Neill.

O'Neill said their hopes for Lava Man "will be forever high."

The Gold Cup victory improved Lava Man's record to 12 wins in 32 starts and earnings of $2,904,706. A 5-year-old gelding, he has earned $2,806,103 since being claimed for $50,000 in August 2004.

Lava Man will try for his sixth win of the year in the Pacific Classic. Last year, he finished third in the Pacific Classic, beaten three-quarters of a length by Borrego after being pressured from the start.

After the Pacific Classic, Lava Man may have just two starts in the fall - the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Oak Tree in October and the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4.

In the Pacific Classic, Lava Man will be attempting to win his fourth Grade 1 win of the year, having won the Santa Anita Handicap in March, the Charles Whittingham Handicap in June, and Hollywood Gold Cup. He has also won two restricted races - the Sunshine Millions Classic for California-breds and Florida-breds in January and the Khaled Stakes for California-breds in April.

O'Neill said on Sunday that Lava Man showed no ill effects from a severe stumble at the start of the Gold Cup.

"He left a little bit of grain," O'Neill said, referring to Lava Man's dinner. "He's a little tired. He slept in a little longer than he normally does."

Typically a front-runner, Lava Man raced from a stalking position in the Gold Cup after the poor start. When O'Neill saw the start, he felt Lava Man's chances were doomed. But jockey Corey Nakatani had Lava Man relaxed behind pacesetter Magnum and got a response from Lava Man in the final three furlongs to repel challenges from Magnum and Ace Blue.

"It looked like he had his nose down at the right time," O'Neill said of the finish. "Corey did an amazing job."

Lava Man won by a nose, the first time this year he has been involved in a photo finish.

"I've watched the replay," O'Neill said. "The start didn't seem as bad as it did live."

The Pacific Classic is expected to have a larger field than the Gold Cup, which drew five. Some of the probable starters include Ace Blue and Super Frolic, who were second and third in the Gold Cup, and possibly Buzzards Bay, who won the Oaklawn Handicap in April and finished fourth in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs last month.

Penalty period nearly up for O'Neill

Lava Man was O'Neill's eighth winner from 67 starters out of a pre-race detention barn.

Since June 14, O'Neill's starters have been required to stay in a detention barn for 24 hours before racing. The penalty is a result of one of his horses testing in excess of the permitted level of total carbon dioxide in May. The penalty period ends Thursday. For a 15-day period beginning Friday, O'Neill's stable will be subject to surveillance from the California Horse Racing Board.

Through Sunday, O'Neill led Jeff Mullins, 28-27, in the meet trainer standings.

New Joysey Jeff to Oceanside

New Joysey Jeff, who unseated jockey Jose Valdivia in the Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap on June 25, will make his next start in the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar on July 19, trainer Mark Glatt said.

Glatt said he had considered sending New Joysey Jeff to Saturday's $1 million Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs, but decided against it because of the competition, the expected warm weather, and the circumstances of New Joysey Jeff's last start.

"They're not going to give the race away," Glatt said. "It would be tough."

In the Cinema, New Joysey Jeff was fighting for the lead near the eighth pole when he ducked out and unseated Valdivia, who broke his collarbone.

Valdivia may return in time for the opening day of Del Mar.

Two main tracks to close

With the Del Mar meet to begin July 19, Hollywood Park and Santa Anita are closing their main tracks for scheduled maintenance.

The closures are certain to increase horse traffic on Del Mar's crowded main track. Del Mar's track opens for training this week.

Santa Anita will close its main track this weekend to inspect the base, a project first announced in June. The main track will be closed from 10 to 14 days, forcing trainers based at Santa Anita to exercise their horses on the track's half-mile training track. Training hours will be extended to accommodate horsemen.

Hollywood Park informed horsemen Sunday that the final day of training this summer will be July 18 and that all horses and people must vacate the barn area by the afternoon of July 19.

Hollywood Park is installing a synthetic track, a project that is expected to be completed by the end of August or early September.

The project must be completed in early September to accommodate horsemen returning from Del Mar when that meet ends Sept. 6.

Leprechaun Kid returns in Sunset BC

The Hollywood Park meeting concludes Sunday, and there is one graded stakes remaining - the Grade 2, $150,000 Sunset Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on turf, to be run closing day.

Leprechaun Kid, who won the Del Mar Handicap last September, will make his 2006 debut in the Sunset. Trained by Mike Mitchell, Leprechaun Kid has not started since finishing 10th in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont Park last October.

Other probable starters are Molengao, who was sixth in the Charles Whittingham Handicap on June 10; T.H. Approval, the winner of the last two runnings of the San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita; and Wild Buddy, the winner of an allowance race here June 14.

Patrick Valenzuela is booked to ride Leprechaun Kid, but he will not ride from Wednesday through Friday. Valenzuela has dropped an appeal of a three-day suspension issued in March at Santa Anita and will serve the days.