06/11/2007 12:00AM

Whittingham result pleases two groups


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Everything went as planned for After Market in Saturday's $300,000 Charles Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood Park, for a change. Everything was going dandy for Lava Man, until After Market pulled alongside of him in the stretch.

The pair were separated by 1 1/2 lengths at the finish of the Grade 1 Whittingham at 1 1/4 miles on turf, but both camps were able to claim victory.

After Market scored the biggest win of his career, and became a worthy candidate for the major turf stakes of the summer, such as the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar on July 22 and the Arlington Million at Arlington Park on Aug. 11.

"He's really good right now," said owner-breeder Marty Wygod. "The horse ran an unbelievable race."

After Market, 4, has won 6 of 10 starts and $403,685. He has overcome a sesamoid injury at 2 and an incident in which he bled badly at 3 to win two graded stakes this year.

This season, After Market has won 2 of 5 starts. After finishing eighth in an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park in January, After Market was transferred from Bill Mott to John Shirreffs in California. After finishing eighth and sixth in races at Santa Anita, After Market rebounded to win the Grade 3 Inglewood Handicap on April 28.

Shirreffs was in New York on Saturday, watching Santa Anita Derby winner Tiago finish third in the Belmont Stakes. He was not able to watch the Whittingham, but heard a call over the telephone.

"I listened to the replay," he said. "I was stuck in traffic."

Lava Man was beaten but not embarrassed in the Whittingham, a change from his last start, when he was 16th in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free at Nad al-Sheba in March. The winner of the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in 2006 and 2007, Lava Man is likely to return in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on June 30.

Lava Man, a 6-year-old gelding, will attempt to win that race for a record-equaling third time. Native Diver won the race three times from 1965-67.

Lava Man led in early stretch of the Whittingham, but could not hold off After Market, who ran 1 1/4 miles on turf in 1:58.77.

"He ran a good race off a layoff," said Jason Wood, a co-owner of Lava Man. "You don't want to get beat. When you look at the time, they flew. He'll get a lot out of it and it'll set up for the Gold Cup."

Lava Man's loss ended a nine-race winning streak in Southern California that dates back to a third-place finish in the 2005 Pacific Classic. The winning streak included the 2006 Pacific Classic, and getting back to that race on Aug. 19 is another goal for Wood, the Kenly family's STD Racing Stable, and trainer Doug O'Neill.

"He came back to run well," Steve Kenly said of the Whittingham. "We'll see where he is in three weeks. If not, we'll wait."

Valbenny an Oaks threat for Gallagher

For the second time in three years, trainer Paddy Gallagher has a leading contender for the $750,000 American Oaks. In 2005, the Gallagher-trained Three Degrees won the Grade 2 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap, but finished a troubled fifth in the American Oaks.

This year, Gallagher has arguably a better chance to win the nation's richest turf race for 3-year-old fillies. Valbenny, the winner of Saturday's Grade 2 Honeymoon, is a leading contender for the Grade 1 American Oaks at 1 1/4 miles on turf on July 7.

Valbenny won the Honeymoon by 1 3/4 lengths under a hand ride from jockey Alex Solis. She raced in traffic on the turn and quickened in the stretch to reach the front. The victory marked her fourth stakes win in the last eight months and her first at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

"We wondered if the mile and an eighth would catch her out, but she kept going to the wire," Gallagher said.

Owned by a large partnership, Valbenny has won 5 of 8 starts and $269,653.

Her victory on Saturday came nearly two weeks after Three Degrees was fatally injured in the Gamely BC Stakes.

Business numbers look strong

Boosted by strong handle on Saturday's program, which featured a simulcast of the Belmont Stakes, and successful promotions on recent Friday evenings, Hollywood Park continues to show growth in attendance and handle during the spring-summer meeting, according to figures released by the track.

Through Saturday, the 36th day of the 63-day meeting, the average ontrack handle was $1,767,525, a gain of 4.9 percent, while the all-sources average handle of $11,418,874 has improved 9.2 percent. The average ontrack attendance is 6,325, a gain of 5.8 percent.

Saturday's all-sources handle reached $21,214,459, the third-highest for a program that featured the Belmont Stakes simulcast.

The track has been promoting its Friday night programs, which feature concerts after the races. Last Friday's program drew 13,565, one of the highest attendance totals of the meeting. The six Friday evening programs have averaged 9,492 customers, many of whom are part of a younger demographic.

Track officials are hopeful that the Friday, July 6, program, which features the $1 million CashCall Mile, will draw a large crowd.

Michael Baze avoids injury

Leading jockey Michael Baze escaped injury when he was unseated from Pink Polkadots in Friday's second race.

Baze underwent precautionary X-rays on an ankle, but did not have an injury. He returned to ride on Saturday.

"I just wrapped it and took some medicine," he said Saturday afternoon.

Through Sunday, Baze had 47 wins, and had a nine-race advantage over Joe Talamo in second place.

* Jockey Jon Court has been suspended three days for causing interference aboard race winner Carly Effect in Saturday's sixth race. Carly Effect was disqualified and placed fourth for drifting out in the stretch. The suspension begins this Sunday and continues through June 21.