Lava Man, the 5-year-old son of Slew City Slew
on Saturday added the trophy from the Pacific Classic -- which began in 1991 -- to his victories in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 8 and the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 4.
"To win the marquee race at Santa Anita, Hollywood, and Del Mar is huge," said owner Steve Kenly, a farmer and real estate developer from Phoenix, who owns Lava Man with his father, David, and Jason Wood of Orange County. "Just to participate in it is huge."
With the $600,000 winner's check, Lava Man pushed his career earnings to $3,504,706, the third-highest ever for a Cal-bred, behind Tiznow ($6,427,830) and Best Pal ($5,668,245).
He also expanded his earnings as the greatest money winner off a claim to $3,406,103.
"The money's almost secondary," Kenly said. "Just to be part of this horse, we're all just on cloud nine every time he runs. I guarantee we're all collectively a hell of a lot more nervous about this horse than we ever thought we'd be. Every race, it seems like the pressure builds. This race today seemed to be extra pressure."
On Aug. 13, 2004, Kenly called trainer Doug O'Neill with an urgent request to claim a horse in Del Mar's first race -- Lava Man.
"Not bad," O'Neill said about Lava Man's total return to date. "Anyone involved in claiming knows that the majority of the time you're just trying to scratch back to the surface. This horse has exceeded all expectations."
O'Neill added that Kenly wanted Lava Man claimed for $62,500.
"I saved him $12,500," O'Neill joked.
Lava Man was on or near the lead on the rail the whole way. He gave Preachinatthebar the slip in the far turn and powered on to his sixth straight victory, cheered by the crowd of 32,039.
"He's writing history, and I'm happy to be part of it," winning jockey Corey Nakatani said.
"Basically, I was sitting pretty and hoping to get to the far turn and have him take off for home," Nakatani said. "That's what good horses do."
Sweeping the California Triple "is an unbelievable feat and something that I'm sure won't really set in for a few weeks, until we think back and realize how amazing of a horse he was to do this," O'Neill said.
"It's incredible when you think about all the great horsemen and great horses that have run in this state, and to be the one horse that's done it in one year is incredible."
Super Frolic was third, a half-length back. Perfect Drift, a 7-year-old who had finished second in this race the last two years, was another 1 3/4 lengths back in fourth.
Giacomo, the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner and third betting choice, was fifth, another two lengths back. Top This and That was four lengths back in sixth, and Magnum, beaten by Lava Man in the Santa Anita Handicap, was seventh, a half-length back. Preachinatthebar was last by 1 3/4.
Lava Man covered the 1 miles in 2:01.62.
Lava Man was third in last year's Pacific Classic, when Perfect Drift was beaten by Borrego.
Sent off as the even-money choice, Lava Man paid $4.00, $3.60, and $3.20. Good Reward, ridden by Garrett Gomez, paid $11.60 and $7.00. Super Frolic, with Jon Court, returned $5.60.
Lava Man's winning streak also includes a victory in the Grade I Charles Whittingham Handicap on grass at Hollywood Park.
Kenly and O'Neill haven't decided if they'll run Lava Man in the Breeders' Cup. If they do, they'd run him in a dirt or grass prep race at the Oak Tree Meeting at Santa Anita.