07/09/2005 12:00AM

Lava Man takes Hollywood Gold Cup


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The prediction that Patrick Valenzuela issued in the paddock before he rode Lava Man in Saturday's $750,000 turned out to be prophetic.

Valenzuela told owners Steve and David Kenley and Jason Wood and trainer Doug O'Neill not to worry too much about pre-race tactics. Lava Man, Valenzuela said, could be anywhere as the race unfolded and still manage to win.

"'I can sit second. I can sit third. I can sit fourth. I could be on the lead,'" Valenzuela said in the paddock.

Then, he went out and proved it.

Lava Man stalked pacesetter Congrats for the first six furlongs, took the lead on the second turn and pulled away for a dramatic win by 8 3-4 lengths. Winning the first Grade 1 of his career, Lava Man ($14) finished 1 1-4 miles in 1:59.63. Racing near a decent pace of 22.96; 47.05 and 1:10.82 did not bother Lava Man.

"I was confident the whole way," Valenzuela said. "They went 10 and change and he still kicked the last quarter mile."

Borrego, last of nine on the backstretch, rallied to finish second, a length in front of Congrats, who set an early pace of 22.96; 47.05 and 1:10.82. Limehouse, the 6-5 favorite, finished fifth, beaten 15 3-4 lengths. He was unsettled in the gate before the start and was never closer than fifth.

Lava Man scored his third consecutive win in the Gold Cup. He won an optional claimer on May 14, in which he was eligible to be claimed for $100,000, and the Grade 2 Californian Stakes as an 8-1 outsider on June 18.

The victory completed Lava Man's ascension from a $50,000 claimer to a major stakes winner. Last summer, the Kenleys and Wood claimed Lava Man out of a runner-up finish in a turf race at Del Mar. Since then, he has won 4 of 11 starts. The Gold Cup win was worth $450,000.

Despite his claiming background, Lava Man carried starting highweight of 118 pounds in the Gold Cup.

A gelding, Lava Man, 4, has won 7 of 24 starts and $908,039.

The first three finishers had run well in major races this year. Congrats and Borrego were second and third in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in March behind Rock Hard Ten, who is only in light training right now.