03/11/2007 11:00PM

Lava Man takes aim at turf race in Dubai

Charles Pravata/Horsephotos
Lava Man will aim for the $5 million Dubai Duty Free, a turf race over about 1 1/8 miles on Dubai World Cup Night, March 31.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Lava Man is going to Dubai.

The 6-year-old Lava Man, winner of nine straight in California but unplaced in four starts outside the state, will work Sunday at Hollywood Park and leave for Dubai two days later.

Owned by Steve and David Kenly's STD Racing Stable and Jason Wood, Lava Man will aim for the $5 million Dubai Duty Free, a turf race over about 1 1/8 miles on Dubai World Cup Night, March 31. Lava Man has won his last three on grass and his connections believe he is most effective on that surface. Lava Man has not raced on grass outside California.

"The horse is doing great, and the owners really want to go," trainer Doug O'Neill said over the weekend. "We're going to work him, and if he works awesome and comes out of it awesome, he'll board a plane on the 20th and go to Dubai."

Claimed for $50,000 in August 2004, Lava Man has won 16 races and more than $4.6 million from 37 starts and become one of the most popular racehorses in California. His Grade 1 victories include the 2006 and 2007 Santa Anita Handicap, and the 2006 Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic, and Charles Whittingham Handicap on grass.

The Dubai Duty Free, at 1,777 meters, is the penultimate race on the Dubai World Cup card. Post time for the Duty Free is 9:40 a.m. Pacific; the $6 million Dubai World Cup will be run at 10:30 Pacific.

Maiden displays extraordinary talent

A spectacular debut by the 3-year-old filly Magnificience in a maiden sprint Sunday at Santa Anita nearly upstaged Rags to Riches's victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks. Alex Solis rode Magnificience, a Stormy Atlantic filly owned and trained by Bruce Headley who appeared to lose all chance when she walked out the gate in race 1.

The slow start was typical for a first-time starter, and her situation did not improve early in the 6 1/2-furlong race. Magnificience raced greenly while tossing her head, and trailed by 10 lengths after the first quarter-mile. But she picked up steam into the turn, circled the field with a 22-second middle quarter on the turn, hit the front into the stretch, when, Solis said, "she switched leads and said, heck with it, I'm out of here."

Magnificience won under wraps by 6o1/2 lengths in 1:15.62, earned a 96 Beyer Figure, and stamped herself as a potential star. The win was no surprise to Headley or Solis; Magnificience had a series of bullet works and repeatedly outworked Santa Anita Oaks runner-up Silver Swallow.

Headley purchased Magnificience for $120,000 at the Keeneland yearling sale.

Headley has no doubt that Magnificience will run long. "She's built like a cheetah," he said. "She's long and graceful."

San Felipe an experiment for two

The 3-year-old colts Cobalt Blue and Grapelli will both try something new Saturday in the Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes. Cobalt Blue stretches out off a fast allowance sprint; Grapelli adds blinkers after dropping far off the pace and finishing third in the one-mile San Rafael.

Cobalt Blue, owned by Merv Griffin, returned from a six-month layoff Feb. 14 by running six furlongs in 1:09.12. His trainer, Doug O'Neill, has turned the screws since. Last Saturday, Cobalt Blue worked six furlongs in 1:11.80 at Hollywood Park.

"He's a big, strong horse, and we've asked him a little bit more," O'Neill said. "He worked, and when came back he was blowing a little bit, so he got something out of it."

Cobalt Blue's work was the fastest of 25 works at the distance.

Grapelli wore blinkers in a team work with Ravel on Sunday at Hollywood, and trainer Todd Pletcher would like see him closer to the pace Saturday when he adds blinkers for his seventh start.

"In the San Rafael he was pretty far out of it early on, but we liked the way he finished," Pletcher said. "He seems like he is an improving horse."

In the five-furlong workout Sunday, Ravel broke off two lengths behind Grapelli; they finished together. Grapelli was timed in 1:00.40; Ravel was timed in 1:00.

A small field is taking shape for the San Felipe. In addition to Cobalt Blue and Grapelli, the field will include Air Commander, Noble Court, and Level Red.

Balance may return to grass

The Santa Margarita Handicap victory on Saturday by Balance established the 4-year-old as the top older female in California. The challenge for trainer David Hofmans and owner John Amerman is mapping a midseason campaign. The next Grade 1 in California for fillies and mares on dirt is the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 7.

"We can't wait for July," Hofmans said Sunday. "We'll look for someplace."

Balance, who began her career on turf, has been nominated to the Grade 1 Gamely, a 1 1/16-mile turf race

May 28.

Meanwhile, Hofmans said his 3-year-old sprinter Desert Code, winner of the Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes on turf last Saturday, could stretch out to a mile for his next start. The $100,000 La Puente, a mile grass race for 3-year-olds, will be run April 14 at Santa Anita.

Frankel passes Whittingham

Trainer Bobby Frankel surpassed Charlie Whittingham on Saturday to become the all-time leading trainer at the Santa Anita winter meet.

Frankel established the record with romping maiden winner In the Woods, the 870th winter-meet win for Frankel. He scored his 871st in the next race with allowance winner Brilliant Cut.

Chavez set for return

Jockey Jorge Chavez is scheduled to return to action Wednesday. Chavez missed riding Thursday through Sunday after suffering a minor injury to his left knee in training mishap Thursday morning. Chavez has become the darling of longshot bettors this winter at Santa Anita, where he ranks seventh in the standings with 19 winners and has produced a $3.81 return for each $2 win wager.