Updated on 09/18/2011 12:30AM

Lava Man wins Big Cap

Lava Man (center) sweeps past High Limit (right) as eventual runnerup Magnum takes chase in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - In the span of a furlong in Saturday's $1 million , Lava Man went from running in third outside of two rivals to having a clear lead when the field entered the stretch.

At that moment, jockey Corey Nakatani and trainer Doug O'Neill had the same thought. "How much will he win by?" Nakatani recalled thinking.

Lava Man's quick rally was enough to hold a two-length lead with a furlong remaining. The early move turned out to be pivotal. Magnum, a 17-1 outsider, made a sustained rally but could not catch Lava Man, who won by three-quarters of a length.

Lava Man ($8.80) was the second choice in a field of nine. A California-bred, Lava Man ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.57 in the Grade 1 Big Cap.

Wilko, the winner of the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, rallied from last to finish third, 8 1/4 lengths behind Lava Man. The disappointments in the nine-horse field were High Limit and Giacomo. High Limit, the 7-5 favorite, raced with the leaders before fading to the top of the stretch.

"When I needed him to respond, I couldn't go with" Lava Man, said jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who ride High Limit. "I wanted to be where Corey was. He beat me easily."

Giacomo, the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner, never reached a threatening position and finished fifth, 11 1/2 lengths behind Lava Man.

Carrying joint topweight of 120 pounds, Lava Man was always near the front, racing alongside With Distinction and High Limit through early fractions of 23.60 and 47.21 seconds.

"I wanted to put the pressure on High Limit," Nakatani said. Lava Man "was on his A-game."

Lava Man was three-wide throughout, but responded well when asked by Nakatani on the final turn.

"Corey won the race," said winning trainer Doug O'Neill. "It was a weird race on paper. It looked like three or four horses wanted to stalk. We told Corey, 'Don't be on the inside.'

"Corey said, 'Don't worry. If the horse is there, I'll give him the best ride.'"

The victory confirmed Lava Man's status at the top of California's handicap division, and marked the 5-year-old gelding's second win in a $1 million race this year. Owned by STD Racing and Jason Wood, Lava Man won the restricted Sunshine Millions Classic for California-breds and Florida-breds here on Jan. 28.

Claimed by his current owners and trainer for $50,000 at Del Mar in August 2004, Lava Man has won 9 of 29 starts and $2,184,706.