08/16/2007 12:00AM

O'Neill not worried by Lava Man's post


DEL MAR, Calif. - Lava Man's rail post position for Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar does not concern trainer Doug O'Neill as much as the other 12 entrants in the 1 1/4-mile race.

With a run of nearly three furlongs to the first turn, O'Neill expects Lava Man to be in a stalking position before the field reaches the backstretch. After that, the horse's ability will have to carry him to his first victory on a Polytrack synthetic surface.

"I don't think it's that big of a deal," O'Neill said of the post. "He's facing a 12-horse field. We were hoping for posts 7, 8, or 9 - to be in the middle of the field. By the time they hit the turn, they should have space enough that he can be in the right place."

Lava Man enters the Pacific Classic as the defending champion, and he is coming off his third consecutive win in the Hollywood Gold Cup on June 30.

Owned by the partnership of Jason Wood and the Kenly family's STD racing, Lava Man is attempting to become the first horse to sweep Southern California's three top races for older horses - the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic - for the second consecutive year.

If all 13 start, the Pacific Classic will have its second-largest field in the 17-year history of the race. In 2002, Came Home prevailed in a 14-horse field.

Lava Man's main rivals are Big Booster, who was third in the Hollywood Gold Cup; Sun Boat, the winner of the San Diego Handicap here on July 21; and the 3-year-old Tiago, who won the Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 14.

Nakatani banged up

Lava Man is scheduled to be ridden by jockey Corey Nakatani, who was off his mounts on Thursday after injuring a shoulder on Wednesday.

Nakatani suffered a bruised shoulder on Wednesday evening after being thrown from Corazondelcampeon before the Green Flash Handicap. The incident occurred as the horses were walking from the paddock to the racetrack. Corazondelcampeon apparently became spooked and unseated Nakatani.

Nakatani was taken to a local hospital for X-rays, which were negative. According to his agent, Craig O'Bryan, Nakatani was questionable for Friday's program, and was hoping to return to riding on Saturday.

Nakatani is booked to ride Rutherienne in Saturday's Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks.

Pace looks key to Passified in Oaks

At 1 1/8 miles on turf, the $400,000 Del Mar Oaks is just long enough to test the stamina of some 3-year-old fillies.

That concerns trainer Jim Cassidy, who starts the two-time stakes winner Passified, but is not as big of a concern for O'Neill, who has entered his own two-time stakes winner in Super Freaky.

Both fillies figure to be well backed.

Passified enters the race on a two-race wining streak compiled in one-mile turf stakes - the Flawlessly Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 6 and the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap here on July 28.

Cassidy expects to know on the backstretch whether Passified has a chance in the Del Mar Oaks.

"If it's a nice, easy pace, it's good," Cassidy said. "If it's a fast pace, I don't know."

In one start over 1 1/8 miles on turf, Passified was fourth behind the Del Mar Oaks favorite, Valbenny, in the Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park in June.

Passified is by Compton Place, and Cassidy questions whether the filly is better suited to a mile on pedigree.

"I've done better with them at a mile than a mile and a sixteenth," he said of the stallion's progeny.

The field of 10 will be the toughest that Passified and Super Freaky have faced. Aside from Valbenny, another leading contender is Rutherienne, who has won 6 of 7 starts, all for trainer Christophe Clement in the East.

"The filly from the East looks like she's legit," Cassidy said of Rutherienne. "You don't know if Super Freaky will show up."

Super Freaky was favored in the San Clemente, but could finish only fourth under jockey Jon Court.

"I might have her too fresh," O'Neill said. "When Jon called on her she wasn't there. Jon didn't do anything wrong."

Super Freaky started in the San Clemente after a seven-week layoff following a second-place finish in the Honeymoon.

"We're bringing her back at a more appropriate time, mentally," O'Neill said. "The way she trains in the morning, I don't think the distance will be a problem."

Another turf sprint wired

Barber, an 11-1 outsider, won Wednesday's $95,760 Green Flash Handicap over five furlongs on turf by leading throughout, the seventh consecutive front-running winner in a turf sprint at this meeting.

By staying in front, Barber avoided the trouble that plagued several runners in the field of eight.

"I knew the bias was pretty strong on turf," said trainer Art Sherman. "He tries every time."

Ridden by Richard Migliore, Barber ($25.60) was timed in 55.71 seconds, holding off a late run from an unlucky Scottsbluff.

"Speed is very tough," Migliore said. "He broke so well that it helped establish position. He kept finding every time he felt a horse's presence."

Scottsbluff was stuck in traffic on the turn and rallied to just miss. Indian Breeze, a 14-1 longshot, finished third. Double Action, who finished fourth, was in traffic on the turn, while Bonfante was forced out in early stretch.

The stewards conducted an inquiry into the stretch run but did not change the order of finish.

Barber, 4, has won 5 of 13 starts and $186,071. The Green Flash was his first stakes win. A gelding owned by W.J. Zellerbach, Barber was second in the Sam Whiting Handicap at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton on July 7.