There’s a palpable feeling of optimism around the connections of Lava Man who have observed his initial gallops and overall demeanor since he arrived in Dubai last week for the US$5 million Dubai Duty Free on March 31.
“He’s happy here,” said exercise rider Tony Romero. “It’s a surprise, but that’s why I have a lot of confidence in him.”
Following a particularly eye-catching gallop over the turf course, the same strip the six-time grade I winner will race over Saturday, Romero gave the thumbs up sign when he guided Lava Man off the track.
Eager to keep going, Lava Man pulled against the bit when Romero tried to end the exercise.
“The turf is excellent. To tell you the truth, he looks better here when he gallops on the grass than he does back home in California,” said Carlos Pena, who has been overseeing Lava Man’s preparations before the arrival Tuesday of Leandro Mora, assistant to trainer Doug O’Neill.
Although the gelding has a reputation for not shipping well or adjusting calmly to new surroundings, he has been relaxed in Dubai.
“Before when he traveled, he didn’t eat. He’s eating well and sleeping well here,” Romero said.
“I cross my fingers, but this time he looks different than he did in Kentucky for the Breeders’ Cup,” Pena added, referring to Lava Man’s journey to Churchill Downs for the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) on dirt.
There, he finished seventh after being bumped and carried wide on a track that favored horses on the inside.
The large stalls in the Nad al Sheba quarantine barn and the peaceful environment have proved to be much more appealing to the horse than the barn area at Churchill, Pena said.
Although pleased with his adjustment, Lava Man’s team has taken steps to ensure he will be in a position to race to the best of his versatile ability.
The California bred has been training with pads on his troublesome feet, and on race day, he will wear earplugs while in the paddock so as not to be distracted by the crowd, Romero said.
A grade I winner on dirt and turf, Lava Man can run on the lead or stalk the early pace, which could give him the advantage of dictating pace in the 1,777-meter Dubai Duty Free.