Versatile Lava Man Tops Whittingham Line-Up

Versatile Lava Man Tops Whittingham Line-Up
Photo: Benoit
Santa Anita 'Cap winner Lava Man looks to continue winning ways in Saturday's Charles Whittingham Memorial.
(from Hollywood Park report)
Lava Man, the 2005 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) winner who is unbeaten in three starts this year, will meet defending champion Sweet Return in Saturday's $300,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park.

The 1 1/4-mile turf event has drawn a stellar field that also includes multiple graded stakes winner King's Drama and two-time San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT) winner T.H. Approval.

Lava Man, a California-bred son of Slew City Slew, enters the Whittingham following victories in the Sunshine Millions Classic, the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), and the TVG Khaled Stakes on the grass --which he won in a course record time of 1:44.26 for 1 1/8 miles at Hollywood Park April 30.

"Whether it is dirt or turf, he brings his 'A' game every time," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "He's a very, very nice horse."

Lava Man, claimed from his 13th career start for $50,000 in August of 2004 at Del Mar on the advice of co-owner Steve Kenly of Phoenix, Ariz., has won seven of 17 starts since then. A winner of $774,103 a year ago when his biggest victory came in the Gold Cup, he has already banked more than $1.2 million this year and takes a career bankroll of $2,274,706 into the Whittingham.

Lava Man will try to emulate some of the exceptional horses of the 1970s and 1980s by running equally well on both surfaces. One of those, Exceller, was saddled by Whittingham to win the Turf Handicap and the Gold Cup in 1973.

A trio of Hall of Fame trainers – Bobby Frankel, Ron McAnally and Neil Drysdale – should have a say in Saturday's outcome. The Whittingham, which was known as the Hollywood Turf Handicap, is scheduled for the sixth of ten races on Saturday's card.

McAnally, who won the race three times with the great John Henry in the 1980s, will send out Sweet Return, who posted back-to-back grade I wins a year ago in the Whittingham and Eddie Read Handicap. He enters the race with earnings of $1,523,731.

Drysdale, a protégé of Whittingham, will saddle Red Fort, who was beaten a nose here a year ago in the Inglewood Handicap (gr. IIIT) and by a head by Sweet Return in the Whittingham. Red Fort was off ten months before finishing fourth in the 2006 Inglewood.

"The Whittingham will mean something special if I win it," said Drysdale, who has saddled five winners, two since the name change. "Red Fort is coming up to the race as well as he did last year and, hopefully, there will be more pace this time."

Frankel seeks a record-tying seventh victory in the Whittingham with co-high weight King's Drama, whose biggest win came in the 2005 Sword Dancer Handicap (gr. IT) at Saratoga. A winner of nine of 28 starts for earnings of $564,288, he won the San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT) in his last start March 25 at Santa Anita.

Irish-bred Artiste Royal, trained by former Whittingham exercise rider Laura de Seroux, won a group III race in France before coming to North America. The 5-year-old finished sixth in the 2005 Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) and was second in the Inglewood Handicap at Hollywood April 29.

T. H. Approval, trained by Eduardo Inda, provided the trainer with his only win of 2005 while taking the San Juan Capistrano, then repeated in the 1 ¾-mile race April 23 and has not started since.

"Charlie always said a horse needed more time after the San Juan Capistrano," Inda said. "He's been doing good since, and a mile-and-a-quarter should be okay for him."

$300,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT, Race 6, 3:50 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Runaway Dancer (KY), 114, Jose Valdivia, Jr.
2. Sweet Return (GB), 117, Jon Court
3. Red Fort (IRE), 118, David Flores
4. T. H. Approval (KY), 118, Martin Pedroza
5. King's Drama (IRE), 122, Patrick Valenzuela
6. Artiste Royal (IRE), 116, Aaron Gryder
7. Brecon Beacon (GB), 115, Tyler Baze
8. Lava Man (CA), 122, Corey Nakatani
9. Molengao (BRZ), 114, David Cohen

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