03/05/2007 12:00AM

Lava Man's next on the road

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The handicap star Lava Man is likely to make his next start in one of two 1 1/8-mile turf races: the $5 million Dubai Duty Free at Nad Al Sheba on March 31 or the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 5, trainer Doug O'Neill said on Sunday.

On Saturday, Lava Man successful defended his title in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap, holding off a threat from several runners through the stretch and finishing three-quarters of a length in front of runner-up Molengao.

The victory was Lava Man's 11th stakes win in his last 12 starts in California. His only losses in the last 18 months have come in dirt stakes in New York, Japan, and Kentucky.

O'Neill was in contact with Churchill Downs officials on Sunday to discuss the possibility of a start there. Lava Man would have to be supplemented to the Woodford Reserve for $25,000 since he was not nominated in February.

A decision on Lava Man's next start is not likely to come until later this week, at the earliest, O'Neill said. The lure of a lucrative prize has made the Dubai race a real possibility.

"It will come down to how the race is coming up and how the horse is doing," O'Neill said. "It's so much money."

But the trip could take its toll. If Lava Man were to race in Dubai, he may not be able to make the Hollywood Gold Cup on June 30 and the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August, races he won last year.

Lava Man is owned by Kenly family's STD Racing and Jason Wood. Steve Kenly, for one, is enthused about the trip to Dubai, but said: "Let's let the horse tell us. It's possible it doesn't knock him out for six months."

Initially, at the very least, Lava Man recovered well from the Big Cap.

"He looked unbelievable," O'Neill said on Sunday.

Lava Man, 6, became the third horse to win consecutive runnings of the Big Cap, joining John Henry (1981-82) and Milwaukee Brew (2002-03).

O'Neill noted that after this Santa Anita meeting Lava Man will run in California exclusively on synthetic surfaces or turf. Hollywood Park has a synthetic track and Del Mar is installing one for its 2007 meeting. Santa Anita will install such a surface this summer, the track announced last month.

"To close our eyes to that and go after money in a foreign land . . ." O'Neill said. "If something happened and he got injured, I wouldn't forgive myself. He could be like John Henry and run until he's 9."

Migliore staying put

Jockey Richard Migliore, who through Sunday was tied for fourth in the Santa Anita standings with 26 winners, said he will remain in California at least through the fall. Migliore, a veteran of the New York circuit, had been considering a return to the East Coast in coming months.

Migliore won his first Grade 1 race in California in Saturday's $300,000 Frank Kilroe Mile aboard Kip Deville.

"I'm staying," he said on Saturday. "I feel like I've found a new home because of the welcome I've gotten here. Right now, I've committed to staying through Del Mar."

Milgiore said he will return to New York to ride in September, when the Southern California circuit is based at Fairplex Park, but will return for the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting in late September.

Migliore said he has had a "few summit meetings" with his family in New York to discuss his plans. Migliore has four children, ranging in age from kindergarten to a junior in high school.

Kip Deville Shoemaker-bound

Kip Deville, who gave trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. his 1,000th career winner in the Kilroe, will be pointed for the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile at Hollywood Park on May 28.

"It seems like a mile is his game, and it seems like he needs time between races, too," Dutrow said. "I want to run him back in the Shoemaker. It seems like it's plenty of time."

Air Commander looking good

The promising 3-year-old Air Commander won an allowance race over 1 1/8 miles on Sunday, and may return in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 7, trainer Bob Baffert said.

Ridden by Garrett Gomez, Air Commander ($3.20) ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.10, finishing 1 3/4 lengths in front of 18-1 pacesetter Stella Mark. Air Commander raced near the front throughout and took the lead in early stretch.

"He'll enjoy the longer distances," Gomez said. "He's got a couple of quirks we're working on, but he seemed to keep his focus longer. I left him a target the whole time."

Asked about Air Commander's Kentucky Derby prospects, Gomez said the colt "still has time."

Baffert said the Santa Anita Derby is possible but that other stakes will be considered.

"He'll have to punch his ticket" for the Kentucky Derby, Baffert said. "He's a raw talent. That's his best race today."

Air Commander has won 2 of 4 starts. He beat maidens here over 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 4.

Short stakes fields this weekend

The two Grade 1 races at Santa Anita this weekend will have short fields.

Balance, the winner of the La Canada Stakes on Feb. 11, is the 120-pound topweight for Saturday's $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap for fillies and mares over 1 1/8 miles. She is expected to face Ermine, Joint Effort, and Sugar Shake.

Rags to Riches, the winner of the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes in her stakes debut on Feb. 10, will be favored in Sunday's $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks. She will likely run against Baroness Thatcher, Cash Included, Runway Rosie, and Silver Swallow.

Steward gets the distance

Scott Chaney, a steward at Santa Anita, ran the Los Angeles Marathon in 3 hours and 19 minutes on Sunday morning.

"I'm a little sore," said Chaney, 34. "The last six miles were very painful."

Chaney said he will make his next marathon start in the Cleveland Marathon on May 20 and will use the Santa Anita Derby Day 5K on April 7 as a prep.

Three riders get 3-day suspensions

Jockeys Brice Blanc, Jose Alferez, and William Antongeorgi III have been given three-day suspensions for causing interference.

Blanc and Alferez were cited for incidents in races in late February. Antongeorgi recently dropped the appeal of a suspension issued at Hollywood Park in November.

Antongeorgi's suspension began on Sunday and continues through Thursday. Blanc and Alferez are suspended from Wednesday through Friday.