02/10/2006 12:00AM

Lava Man voted Cal-bred horse of the year

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Lava Man, winning the Hollywood Gold Cup, won 3 of 9 starts in 2005.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Lava Man, the winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup last July, has been named the 2005 California-bred horse of the year in voting conducted among the members of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

The announcement was made at the CTBA's annual awards dinner last Tuesday.

Lava Man, 5, won 3 of 9 starts and $774,103 in 2005, a campaign highlighted by wins in the Gold Cup and Grade 2 Californian Stakes and a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic. He earned more prize money than any other California-bred last year.

The Gold Cup was by far his most brilliant performance. Sent off at 6-1, Lava Man was always near the front. He took the lead in early stretch and pulled clear to win by 8 3/4 lengths.

Lava Man races for Steve and Dave Kenley and Jason Wood and is trained by Doug O'Neill. They claimed him for $50,000 in August 2004 from breeders Lonnie Arterburn, Eve Kuhlmann, and Kim Kuhlmann. Overall, Lava Man has won 8 of 28 starts and $1,584,706.

Lava Man is a gelding by Slew City Slew out of Li'l Ms. Leonard, by Nostalgia's Star.

This year, Lava Man's campaign is off to an excellent start. He won the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic for California-breds and Florida-breds at Santa Anita on Jan. 28.

Lava Man is on course for a start in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on March 4.

Lava Man's status as horse of the year means there are two such titleholders in training. Moscow Burning, the 2004 winner, won the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita on Jan. 28.

Broodmare shot to death

Westward Linda, a broodmare in foal to Old Topper, was found dead of gunshot wounds in a paddock at a small northern California farm last week, the second time in the last year that a horse has died in a shooting in California.

Westward Linda was found in a paddock at Janet Griffin and Gretchen Graves's Bangtail Farm in Mad River, Calif., with injuries to her shoulder and pelvis from a .22-caliber rifle, according to a report published in the Eureka Times-Standard.

Westward Linda, 8, was due to foal in March.

"That was one-third of our breeding operation right there," Griffin said.

Bangtail is located 50 miles east of Ferndale, the site of the Humboldt County Fair meeting each August. Griffin, who turned 66 on Friday, and Graves, 72, keep a few retired geldings and two 2-year-olds on the farm. They also have an interest in two racehorses based at Golden Gate Fields.

"We call it a mom-and-mom operation," Griffin said. "We've been doing this for a long time on a small basis. We do all the work."

The Trinity County Sheriff's Dept. has launched an investigation into the shooting.

"Justice is what we're looking for," Griffin said.

Westward Linda had one victory in five starts, a maiden race for $8,000 claimers at the 2001 San Mateo County Fair at Bay Meadows. She has had one foal to race, Justin's Girl, who has won three races.

The California Thoroughbred Breeders Association and Oak Tree Racing Association have contributed money to a fund that will pay a reward for the arrest and conviction of the shooter. Griffin said the fund had reached $9,200 as of Thursday.

"We've had so much support from our peers," Griffin said.

In 2005, five horses died of gunshot wounds in Sanger, in Fresno County. One of the horses was a yearling half-brother to Leave Me Alone, the winner of the Grade 1 Test Stakes in 2005. A 16-year-old male was convicted of the shootings. He was sentenced to six months in juvenile hall and ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service.