Updated on 09/18/2011 12:27AM

Lava Man victorious in Gold Cup

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Lava Man wins the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park on Saturday.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A little adversity made a fighter out of Lava Man in Saturday's $750,000 .

In the most hard-fought win of his career, Lava Man overcame a poor start and a determined rival in 24-1 outsider Ace Blue to win the Grade 1 Gold Cup for the second consecutive year.

Lava Man joined Native Diver as the only horse to win consecutive runnings of Hollywood Park's showcase race. Native Diver won the Gold Cup from 1965-67.

Unlike last year, when Lava Man won the Gold Cup by a record 8 3-4 lengths, he nearly lost this year's running at the finish.

Lava Man ($3.20) ran 1 1-4 miles in 2:01.16, winning by the slimmest of noses against Ace Blue.

"I thought we got beat," trainer Doug O'Neill said.

The win further emphasized Lava Man's status as a leading handicap horse in the nation. He is unbeaten in five starts this year, a campaign all the more remarkable considering he was claimed for $50,000 in the summer of 2004 by owners STD Racing Stable and Jason Wood.

Along with a large group of friends, they welcomed Lava Man into the winner's circle with a rousing reception that would have seemed improbable when the gates opened.

Breaking from the rail, Lava Man stumbled at the start, yielding the early lead to Magnum, the winner of the Lone Star Park Handicap in May. Nakatani kept Lava Man in third for the first six furlongs, following Magnum and Ace Blue through fractions of 23.87 and 48.65 seconds. Ace Blue, ridden by Victor Espinoza, led briefly on the backstretch, racing outside of Magnum.

Lava Man trailed by 2 1-2 lengths for much of the run down the backstretch. Nakatani urged him closer to Magnum with three furlongs remaining, quickly going past Ace Blue who faded to third. Lava Man and Magnum ran as a team on the turn, with Magnum leading by a head well off the rail with a quarter-mile remaining.

When the field settled into the stretch, Lava Man had Magnum to his inside and Ace Blue closing steadily on the outside. Lava Man put away Magnum with a furlong remaining and was fully extended to hold off a resilient Ace Blue, whose rally just fell short.

Lava Man has won 12 of 32 starts and $2,904,706. Prior to Saturday, his closest finish this year was a three-quarter length win over Magnum in the Santa Anita Handicap in March.

"We would have liked for it to be easier," O'Neill said of the Gold Cup. "For him to stumble, find position and get floated out in the stretch, I think he really proved what a warrior he is."

Super Frolic, fourth for much of the race, closed well to finish third, losing by three-quarters of a length. Magnum finished fourth, followed by Seek Gold, the winner of the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs last month.

The narrow loss by Ace Blue stunned trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

"I'm never going to be the sort of guy that accepts defeat," Hollendorfer said. "We're disappointed. Victor rode him well and the horse ran well. We were beaten by a horse that is close to being a legend."

* Singalong won her stakes debut in the restricted $70,451 Redondo Beach Stakes for fillies and mares at a mile on turf. Ridden by Corey Nakatani, Singalong ($) rallied on the rail in the stretch to win by three-quarters of a length over Dream's, finishing in 1:34.57. Midwife finished third in the field of nine.

Singalong, who races for Harlequin Stables and trainer Paddy Gallagher, has won 4 of 12 starts and $165,276.