Dennis O'Neill, associate and brother of trainer Doug O'Neill, said Oct. 14 they hope the shift from turf to Cushion Track for Lava Man's next race will help restore the 6-year-old gelding's confidence. The California-bred son of Slew City Slew has finished sixth in his last two starts, including the Pacific Classic (gr. I) Aug. 19 on Del Mar's Polytrack.
“We think the Cal Cup Classic will be an easier race for him,” said Dennis O’Neill. “In the past when he throws in a couple clunkers, you’d have to put him in the right spot to get his confidence back.
“I think he’ll like this track a lot. In fact, I know he will, because he’s been across it, and this shouldn’t be too tough of a race, compared to what he’s been running against, that’s for sure.”
Lava Man has a 17-8-3 record from 42 starts with earnings of $5,214,706. He has won six of 15 turf starts, including the Charles Whittingham Handicap (gr. IT) in 2006. Lava Man ran in the Cal Cup Classic in 2004, finishing second (at odds of 25-1) to Cozy Guy.
“No doubt about it, the Cal Cup should be a drop in class from open company to restricted company, but he still is a once-in-a-lifetime horse," added Doug O'Neill, who is Oak Tree's leading trainer with eight wins. "He’s doing great and not showing any ill effects from two sub-par races, and we’re hopeful to see it turn around come Cal Cup day.”
In the Oak Tree Mile, Lava Man stalked on the inside down the backstretch, a position the gelding does not fancy.
“We’ll get him back to his style, either out on the lead or stalking right outside of horses," said Dennis O'Neill. "That’s usually where he runs best. We’ll get him back to that, get him in with company he can handle, get his confidence going, and get him back going the right way.”