03/06/2006 1:00AM

Lava Man richest in the land

Email
Horsephotos
Lava Man and Corey Nakatani take the Santa Anita Handicap. Lava Man will point for the Hollywood Gold Cup.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Owner Steve Kenly and trainer Doug O'Neill walked into the Santa Anita press box after Lava Man's win in Saturday's $1 million and seemed comfortable in the surroundings.

They had last been in the press box for a similar press conference after Lava Man's win in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 28 and were back under more prestigious circumstances.

"I could get used to this," Kenly said to O'Neill.

"Yeah," O'Neill said. "We could do something like this at home. Get a bunch of TV's and a coke machine. It would be great."

A few minutes later, Kenly said he was remodeling his Arizona home, but did not say if the addition would feature a racetrack press box motif. Regardless, financing will not be a problem.

Lava Man earned $600,000 for his win in the Big Cap, bringing his 2006 total to $1.15 million, the most of any horse in the nation. What is more remarkable is that Lava Man has earned $2,086,103 since he was claimed by Kenly's STD Racing and co-owner Jason Wood for $50,000 in August 2004.

With his Big Cap win, Lava Man proved that he has regained his form from the summer of 2005 when he won the Grade 2 Californian Stakes and Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup in consecutive starts at Hollywood Park. He lost his last three starts of 2005, including a tough third in the Pacific Classic in August, before rebounding to win the Sunshine Millions.

Lava Man returned $8.80 as the second choice in the Big Cap betting.

"He didn't get a lot of respect, and he wasn't talked about a lot" before the race, Kenly said. "He has so much heart. He's kind of the people's horse."

O'Neill credited Lava Man's success this year to horseshoer Jim Jimenez, who helped prepare the 5-year-old gelding for his 2006 campaign. Lava Man emerged from an 11th-place finish in the Japan Cup Dirt in November with a damaged foot that was aggravated by a coarse surface at Tokyo racecourse, O'Neill said.

Jimenez devised a supporting plate that could be screwed to Lava Man's troubled foot during training and then removed for the rest of the day.

"It protected the foot from getting dirt in it," Jimenez said.

Lava Man's injury was to the soft center portion of the foot, known as the frog. Initially, Jimenez thought Lava Man would not make it back until the spring.

"He tore about 40 percent of that frog off," he said. "What he's done in his last two races astonishes me. We had no idea we'd make these two races."

O'Neill said the foot became more stable in the weeks after the Japan race in November.

"We could train him as the foot came back to normal," O'Neill said. "You always hear: No foot, no horse."

O'Neill said he watched the race on his own on the concrete apron, well away from the massive group that the Kenly and Wood families brought to the races.

"When he turned for home, I was cheering," O'Neill said. "I thought, 'How much will he win by?' I was by myself with a bunch of strangers. They must have thought, 'Look at this idiot. He must have $2 show on this horse.' "

Lava Man will be pointed for the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, with the Hollywood Gold Cup in July as the next major goal.

"We're all talking about the Gold Cup as the dream spot and probably a spot between now and then," O'Neill said on Sunday afternoon. "It is in our own backyard."

Magnum headed to Oaklawn

Magnum, who finished second, three-quarters of a length behind Lava Man, will be pointed for the $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 8, trainer Darrell Vienna said.

An Argentine-bred who was making his U.S stakes debut in the Big Cap, Magnum was the only member of the field to give Lava Man a threat in the stretch. Magnum finished 7 1/2 lengths clear of the third-place finisher, Wilko.

Magnum had won an allowance race by 5 1/4 lengths on Feb. 12, but was sent off at 17-1 in the Big Cap.

"I think he validated what he did the race before," Vienna said. "I had the impression that he wanted to run on turf, and I was wrong about that."

Vienna had hoped that Magnum and jockey Jon Court could get away from the rail and make a stretch run on the outer part of the track, which Vienna thought was the better part of the track on Saturday. But Court and Magnum came into the stretch on the fence, and Court said after the race that he did not want to interrupt Magnum's momentum by taking him to the outside.

"You don't get too many chances to win a race like that," Vienna said. "You want to lose it your way. I hate to sound like sour grapes."

Two of the nine runners came into the race having won Grade 1 races at 1 1/4 miles - Lava Man, in the 2005 Hollywood Gold Cup, and Giacomo, in the 2005 Kentucky Derby.

Giacomo finished fifth in the Big Cap, 11 1/2 lengths behind Lava Man.

Trainer John Shirreffs said he would have preferred Giacomo to have been farther back early. While Giacomo was in eighth place on the backstretch, he was only six lengths behind a modest pace after six furlongs.

"Maybe he came in a little flat," Shirreffs said. "He didn't kick it like he can. I always like to see him drop back to relax a little bit. I would have liked to have seen him stay back a little longer and make one long sustained run."

Shirreffs said that he had no plans for Giacomo's next start.

Bushwacker ran without a shoe

Bushwacker, who finished last as the 2-1 favorite in an optional claimer on Saturday, lost a shoe at the start, trainer Bill Currin said Sunday.

Jockey Alex Solis "told me that Bushwacker stumbled badly and whacked his splint bone and removed his right shoe," Currin said. "He switched leads all the way around. Fortunately, the splint bone will heal."

Bushwacker had finished third in the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28, his first start of 2006.

Small stakes fields

The two Grade 1 races for females at Santa Anita this weekend will have small fields.

The $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on Saturday will include Healthy Addiction, Hollywood Story, Play Ballado, Proposed, Seafree, and Star Parade.

The $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks at 1 1/16 miles on Sunday will feature three Grade 1 winners: Balance (Las Virgenes Stakes), Diplomat Lady (Hollywood Starlet), and Wild Fit (Del Mar Debutante), as well as Itty Bitty Pretty, Quiet Kim, and Sweet Belle.