01/22/2007 12:00AM

O'Neill barn looks to Lava Man for a jump start


ARCADIA, Calif. - The 2007 debut of stable star Lava Man in Saturday's $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita could provide the spark that trainer Doug O'Neill's stable badly needs.

In the first month of the winter-spring meeting here, O'Neill's massive stable has won with only 7 of 93 starters through Sunday, or just over 7 percent. In 2006, O'Neill won with 17 percent of his starters.

"We definitely aren't having a good meeting," O'Neill said. "We're very optimistic that we can turn it around."

Saturday's program could provide a breakthrough. O'Neill has seven starters in the eight Sunshine Millions races for California-breds and Florida-breds at Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park, including six starters in the four races at Santa Anita.

Lava Man, who won the 2006 Sunshine Millions Classic on dirt here, is making his first start since finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November.

The BC Classic was Lava Man's only loss in eight starts last year. The seven wins came in stakes, including four in Grade 1 races.

This is the second consecutive year Lava Man has started his season after a significant loss. At the end of 2005, Lava Man finished 11th in the Japan Cup Dirt at Tokyo Racecourse.

"I feel more comfortable this year, which is scary," O'Neill said. "He's better physically than he was coming back from Japan.

Saturday's Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park was considered for Lava Man's first start of the year, but O'Neill said that he along with the owners - the Kenly family's STD Racing and Jason Wood - decide "the intelligent move was to run him out of his own stall."

Lava Man worked six furlongs in 1:12.80 on Sunday. For the Sunshine Millions Turf, Lava Man has drawn post 11 in a field of 13. The race will be limited to 12 starters.

His main competition are the Florida invaders Go Between, the winner of the 2006 Virginia Derby; Icy Atlantic, who was 11th in the 2006 BC Turf; and Revved Up, a three-time stakes winner last year.

O'Neill also will start Areyoutalkintome and Souvenir Edition in the Sunshine Millions Sprint, and Go Ray Ray, Mistical Plan and Super Freaky in the Oaks.

Tiago wins by disqualification

Tiago, a half-brother to 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, won a maiden race via disqualification in Sunday's sixth race, a bizarre maiden race in which stretch leader Spankey Come Home bolted in early stretch, interfered with Tiago, and came back to win.

The stewards conducted a 10-minute inquiry and disqualified Spankey Come Home from first to second, promoting Tiago. Time Squared, the 1-2 favorite, closed from ninth to run third, finishing a half-length behind Spankey Come Home.

Spankey Come Home ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.80.

Tiago was making his second start, having finished a troubled third in a seven-furlong maiden race here on Dec. 26. "He's a little behind his brother's schedule," said John Shirreffs, who trained Giacomo.

By mid-January of his 3-year-old season, Giacomo had finished third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity.

"Giacomo made every dance," Shirreffs said.

Shirreffs said that Tiago "can't miss too many steps" to make the Triple Crown.

Owned by breeders Jerry and Ann Moss, who campaigned Giacomo, Tiago is likely to start in an allowance race in his next start.

If he does, he might face Major Pleasure, a smart two-length winner of a seven-furlong maiden race in Sunday's third race. Trained by Mike Puype for Rick Trontz, Major Pleasure rallied between horses in early stretch to reach the front in the final furlong. He finished in 1:22.57.

"He's awesome," Puype said. "I'm not sure where we'll go, but we'll stretch him out."

Gomez enjoys 'great day'

Jockey Garrett Gomez, a finalist for the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding jockey for 2006, set a career milestone on Saturday, winning with five consecutive mounts, including the Palos Verdes Handicap on Friendly Island.

It was the second time that Gomez has won five races in a day, having accomplished the milestone for the first time at Arlington Park in July 1991.

Saturday, Gomez won the first four races, all with favorites. The $1 "Gomez pick four" returned $61.30. He later won the sixth race on the

3-year-old maiden Comoros.

"Anytime you win that many it's a great day," Gomez said. "To top it off, I won the stakes and some races with some nice purses."

Through Sunday, Gomez led all riders with 28 wins.

Friendly Island was making his first start since finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs in November. He is being pointed for the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai on Marcho31, according to trainer Michael McCarthy.

McCarthy, 35, is an assistant trainer to Todd Pletcher who has taken command of Pletcher's California stable while Pletcher serves a suspension. The Palos Verdes was McCarthy's first stakes win.

"He will not run between now and Dubai," McCarthy said of Friendly Island.

Slumping Declan's Moon to have tests

Declan's Moon, the champion

2-year-old male of 2004, will undergo a battery of physical tests after finishing last in an allowance race at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday, trainer Ron Ellis.

The allowance race was Declan's Moon's fifth consecutive loss after he won the first five starts of his career.

Ellis said that Declan's Moon "scoped perfectly and was walking perfectly" after the race. "He had no excuses," Ellis said. "We'll check him out and see if we can find something."

Ellis said that Declan's Moon would undergo a nuclear scan and a treadmill test. Ellis fears that Declan's Moon may be having breathing problems.

"He's running like he's shutting down," Ellis said. "We've had four vets check him, but he's stopping in the same place every time."