01/28/2006 1:00AM

Lava Man rebounds in Classic win

Lava Man (right) with Corey Nakatani up in the 2006 Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita Park.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Lava Man, who earned more money than any other California-bred in 2005, showed why he is the king of the statebreds in Saturday's $1 million at Santa Anita.

Ending a three-race losing streak that cast doubt into whether he could regain his outstanding form of last summer, Lava Man won the Classic against California-breds and Florida-breds by 2 1/4 lengths over Whos Crying Now, a Florida-bred.

An ideal trip gave Lava Man the richest win of his career. Ridden by Corey Nakatani, Lava Man stalked the pace, made an authoritative move on the final turn, and reached the front just before the eighth pole. He was kept to a drive through the final furlong but was never threatened.

Texcess, a California-bred, rallied to finish third, 3 3/4 lengths behind Lava Man. Buzzards Bay, the 2-1 favorite, ran fourth.

Trained by Doug O'Neill for Jason Wood and the STD Racing Stable of Steve and Dave Kenley, Lava Man earned $550,000, improving his career mark to 8 wins in 28 starts and earnings of $1,584,706. He was claimed by his current connections for $50,000 in August 2004.

The Classic was the final race in Saturday's eight-race Sunshine Millions series featuring California-breds and Florida-breds. Unlike the first three years, when Florida-breds won 18 of the 24 races, this year's running was dominated by California-breds, who won five races, including three of the four at Santa Anita.

Lava Man ($7.80) was the second choice in the field of 12. The race was expected to have a strong pace, but few could have projected the farcically quick pace of 21.88 and 44.84 seconds shared by Proud Tower Too and Trickey Trevor.

Lava Man was always near the front, racing in fourth on the backstretch, and six lengths behind the pacesetters. On the final turn, Lava Man began closing quickly.

Nakatani guided Lava Man closer to the front on the final turn and reached contention quickly as the pace took its toll on the leaders.

Lava Man ended a three-race losing streak in the Sunshine Millions. After winning the Grade 2 Californian Stakes and the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup, he finished third in the Pacific Classic last summer. Lava Man then finished seventh in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park and 11th in the Japan Cup Dirt at Tokyo racecourse, emerging from that race with a sore foot.

"In the mornings in the last three or four weeks, he seems like he's back to what he was like at Hollywood Park and Del Mar," O'Neill said. "Today we had a healthy horse with a healthy foot and he ran his race."

* An NBC telecast of the Sunshine Millions was delayed by 30 minutes after the National Hockey League game between Dallas and Detroit went into overtime. The Sunshine Millions program lasted one hour instead of the scheduled 90 minutes.