01/29/2007 12:00AM

Lava Man's $5M temptation


ARCADIA, Calif. - Shortly after winning the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf with Lava Man at Santa Anita on Saturday, co-owners Steve Kenly and Jason Wood said they were determined to make the $1omillion Santa Anita Handicap on March 3 the next goal for the 6-year-old gelding.

Both cited the desire to make Lava Man a rare repeat winner of the Big Cap as a reason to point for the richest race of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting.

But the lure of the $5 million Dubai Duty Free on turf on March 31 remains very much on their minds, and Lava Man could run there after the Big Cap.

"You look at the history of the race and you've got to try to repeat," Wood said of the Santa Anita Handicap. "My personal opinion is you stay home, but at the same time, I'd love to go to Dubai."

Trained by Doug O'Neill, Lava Man has never won a stakes outside of California, losing such races as the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Japan Cup Dirt in 2005 and finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Classic last November at Churchill Downs.

Kenly realizes that an unsuccessful trip to the other side of the world could foil the rest of the 2007 campaign for Lava Man, forcing him and his owners to regroup in the summer.

"If he doesn't run well, we blow four months of the year," Kenly said.

Since being claimed for $50,000 in August 2004, Lava Man has won 10 stakes in California for Wood and the Kenly family's STD Racing. That record makes staying home for the Big Cap an easy decision, Steve Kenly said.

"Prestige-wise, it's one of the top races, other than the Kentucky Derby," Kenly said. "The Santa Anita Handicap is very important to us.

"We want to go to Dubai if he comes out of the Big Cap well. If he came out of it good, we'll give it a hard, hard look. It's $5 million and a mile and an eighth on turf. We think he's got the ability to handle the turf better than the dirt."

In Saturday's $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf, Lava Man stalked the pace to the final turn and kicked clear to win by two lengths. The restricted race for California-breds and Florida-breds was his third stakes win on turf in the last year. The others were the Khaled Stakes for California-breds and the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap in June.

In 2006, Lava Man became the first horse to sweep the three major dirt stakes for older horses in Southern California in the same year - the Big Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

Kenly and Wood envision a mixture of stakes on the turf and main track for Lava Man in 2007.

Had Lava Man won the BC Classic in November, he probably would have been Horse of the Year. But he launched another campaign with an emphatic stakes win on Saturday.

"I was jazzed to see the horse win," Wood said of Saturday's race. "He did exactly what I thought he would. He's the man."

'Mojave' uncertain for Big Cap

The Big Cap field will be better known after this weekend, which includes two major stakes - the $300,000 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds on Saturday and the $250,000 San Antonio Handicap for 4-year-olds and older on Sunday. Both races are over 1 1/8 miles.

It is unclear whether McCann's Mojave will run in the Big Cap. McCann's Mojave won the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. Owner Mike Willman, the director of publicity at Santa Anita, said he plans to discuss the horse's campaign with trainer Steve Specht.

The winner of the 2005 California Cup Classic, McCann's Mojave won his third consecutive race in the Sunshine Millions Classic. The victory was his fourth start for Specht. Willman transferred McCann's Mojave from Paddy Gallagher to Specht at Golden Gate Fields after the 7-year-old horse lost six consecutive races in 2005 and 2006.

"I wanted him in a different environment, and, even though this may sound crazy, a colder climate that I thought reinvigorate him," he said.

Willman watched the race from the Santa Anita press box, cheering wildly when McCann's Mojave pulled away from 9-5 favorite Sweetnorthernsaint in the final furlong.

"When he shook loose from the favorite, that's when I started pounding the desk," Willman said.

The victory gave McCann's Mojave his 10th win in 24 starts and earnings of $1,174,955. The winner's share of $550,000 from Saturday's race came at an ideal time for Willman. He recently went through a divorce and has custody of two small boys.

Willman was busy at Santa Anita on Saturday and was unable to travel to Florida. He didn't seem to mind, too much.

"The horse is running well with me on the cell phone," Willman said.

Short fields likely for two stakes

The San Antonio and Strub will not have large fields.

The San Antonio field will include the four-time stakes winner Preachinatthebar, who was third in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap here on Jan. 6. He is expected to face Backus, El Roblar, and Molengao.

The Strub will be led by Awesome Gem, the winner of the San Fernando BC Stakes on Jan. 13. The other probable starters are Arson Squad, Brother Derek, Fairbanks, and Midnight Lute.

Saturday's Sham Stakes will feature Pirate's Deputy, the champion California-bred 2-year-old male of 2006. Trained by Bob Baffert, Pirate's Deputy worked six furlongs in 1:11.60 on Sunday, the fastest of 13 recorded works at the distance.

Espinoza suspended three days

Jockey Victor Espinoza has been given a three-day suspension for causing interference aboard Trick a Cat in last Friday's fourth race. Trick a Cat finished second in the claiming race on the hillside turf course. The stewards conducted an inquiry into a bumping incident in the final furlong, but did not alter the order of finish.

Espinoza's suspension covers racing on Saturday, Sunday and Feb. 7. He will be allowed to ride the Strub and Sham on Saturday and Sunday's San Antonio Handicap since they are designated races exempt from routine suspensions.

Espinoza is considering an appeal, according to his agent, Tony Matos.

Antongeorgi shaken up

Apprentice jockey William Antongeorgi III took off his final two mounts on Sunday's program after his involvement in a spill in the fifth race. Antongeorgi fell from Fappiano's Legacy when that horse was bumped by Charm N Broad on the turn. Charm N Broad finished third and was disqualified and placed last.

Antongeorgi was taken to a local clinic for precautionary back X-rays, according to his agent, Tim Malgarini.

* Trainer J.C. Green has been fined $750 after two of her starters in the first two weeks of this meeting tested in excess of the permitted levels of the muscle relaxant methocarbamol. The positive tests were taken from Topone, the runner-up in the fifth race on Dec. 28, and Getnhotnhere, the runner-up in the first race on Jan. 6.