01/20/2006 12:00AM

Lava Man staying local for now

Lava Man will make his 2006 debut in Saturday's Sunshine Millions Classic.

ARCADIA, Calif. - With the lessons of two crunching losses in New York and Japan behind them, the connections behind Lava Man are aiming him for local stakes in coming months.

Lava Man was at his best last summer at Hollywood Park, where he won the Californian Stakes and the Hollywood Gold Cup. He later finished seventh in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in New York in October and 11th in the $2.07 million Japan Cup Dirt in Tokyo in November.

For Lava Man's 2006 debut, trainer Doug O'Neill has chosen a local, and more comfortable, target - Saturday's $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic for California-breds and Florida-breds at Santa Anita.

Winless in his last three starts, Lava Man, 5, could do with a confidence booster, and O'Neill said he is seeing enthusiasm from him in recent training.

"I would think he'd have to be right there," O'Neill said, referring to the Sunshine Millions. "I think we've got it all leveled out. We're seeing the Lava Man we saw before Del Mar."

Lava Man won the Hollywood Gold Cup by 8 3/4 lengths last July, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 120. He was a game third in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August before suffering losses in New York and Japan by a combined 62 lengths.

O'Neill blamed himself for the Jockey Club Gold Cup loss, saying Lava Man was shipped to New York too close to the race. Lava Man was found to have bled after the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

In the Japan Cup Dirt, Lava Man was near the front until the final quarter-mile before fading quickly.

"In Japan, he had a bruise or an abscess, and that was very painful," O'Neill said.

A strong race in the Sunshine Millions at 1 1/8 miles could lead to a start in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 4. Like the Sunshine Millions, the Santa Anita Handicap carries a major purse and is on the home circuit.

"I think we'll put a pass on any significant travel," O'Neill said.

Lava Man had the most successful 2005 campaign of the probable starters for the Sunshine Millions Classic, a list that includes B. B. Best, Buzzards Bay, Calkins Road, Desert Boom, McCann's Mojave, Proud Tower Too, Supervisor, Texcess, Trickey Trevor, and Wild Buddy.

Proud Tower Too, the upset winner of the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes here Dec. 26, worked a mile in 1:39 at Hollywood Park on Friday.

Texcess worked six furlongs in 1:13.40 at Hollywood on Friday. The champion Cal-bred 2-year-old male of 2004, Texcess is entered in the Barretts January mixed sale this week in Pomona.

The Sunshine Millions features eight stakes, with four run at Gulfstream Park in Florida and four run at Santa Anita.

Tarlow retired at 5

Tarlow, a winner of 4 of 10 starts and $439,740 has been retired, trainer John Shirreffs said on Friday. She was sent to Mill Ridge Farm in Kentucky last month.

, 5, went out a winner, scoring a nose victory in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita in her final start last March.

Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Tarlow had one other stakes win, the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes against 4-year-olds fillies last February. She placed in two stakes. finishing second in the Oak Leaf Stakes in 2003 and third in the El Encino Stakes last January.

Giacomo works with stablemate

Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo worked in company with stablemate Bullistic on Friday at Hollywood Park, going seven furlongs in 1:27.80. It was Giacomo's first work in company with a stablemate since he returned to serious training last fall.

After the work, Shirreffs said Giacomo is "pretty much ready" for a comeback.

Giacomo has had nine workouts since resuming training in the fall - four at a half-mile, three at six furlongs, and two at seven furlongs. He has not raced since finishing seventh in the Belmont Stakes last June, emerging from the race with bone chips in an ankle and knee.

Owned by the Mosses, Giacomo began Friday's work rated just behind Bullistic. They finished together, according to Shirreffs. "He laid off of him a little and finished with him," Shirreffs said.

"It's a little reminder to be patient," he said of giving Giacomo a target. "We're just going over the basic stuff. I'd say it's one more work and then whatever race we decide to run him in."

One possibility is the $300,000 Strub Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 4, but Shirreffs said he would prefer an allowance race. "It depends on the timing and if there is another opportunity," Shirreffs said.

Back to work for Stevie Wonderboy

Stevie Wonderboy, expected to be named champion 2-year-old male of 2005 on Monday, resumed training on Thursday after being given a break following a runner-up finish to Brother Derek in the Grade 2 San Rafael Stakes on Jan. 14.

The San Rafael was Stevie Wonderboy's first start since he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park in October.

O'Neill said Stevie Wonderboy would jog through the weekend. His next goal is the $200,000 Santa Catalina Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 4, a race also on Brother Derek's schedule.

Unbridled Energy will miss Strub

San Fernando Stakes winner Unbridled Energy will miss the final leg of the Strub series due to illness. Trainer Richard Mandella said Friday that Unbridled Energy "got significantly sick" after winning the San Fernando.

Mandella said Unbridled Energy is responding to treatment, but there is no timetable for when he might return to training. In place of Unbridled Energy, Mandella will stretch out Ulistnintome in the Grade 2 Strub.

* A "memorial celebration" honoring longtime Southern California racetrack employee Leslie Preston will be held Tuesday at Santa Anita. The reception begins at 3:30 in the Chandelier Room of the Turf Club. Preston died Jan. 10 at age 50.

- additional reporting by Brad Free