Lava Man made his long-awaited return to competition in the San Gabriel Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) Dec. 27, but it was Proudinsky that found his way back to the winner's circle in the $150,000 turf event at Santa Anita Park.
With Rafael Bejarano aboard, Proudinsky edged even with the pacesetting Lava Man coming into the stretch before taking a slight lead and turning back favored Loup Breton when challenged in the final furlong to make it back-to-back San Gabriel victories. Lava Man, a multiple grade I winner with earnings of more than $5.2 million, was making his first start since he was retired more than 17 months ago.
Proudinsky, formerly trained by the late Bobby Frankel and now saddled by Frankel's longtime assistant Humberton Ascanio, prevailed by a neck over Loup Breton, who enjoyed a dream run along the inside for Garrett Gomez but came up a bit short as the 7-5 choice. The 6-year-old German-bred Proudinsky, sent off at 9-5 odds, completed the 1 1/8-mile San Gabriel in a quick time of 1:46.91 over firm going. He won last year's race in 1:48.39.
Loup Breton, a group II winner in France making his second U.S. start for trainer Julio Canani, was a clear second by 1 1/4 lengths over Acclamation, ridden by David Flores. Lava Man, the fourth choice in the field of seven, tired to finish last.
"I’m not Bobby Frankel, but I just do his thing," Ascanio said. "I knew Julio’s horse (Loup Breton) was going to come running at the end, but I was real confident. (Bejarano) had a lot of horse, and he told me he had a lot of confidence in the horse.”
Looking superb for his comeback, Lava Man, ridden by Tyler Baze, took the early lead and showed the way down the stretch the first time with his ears twitching. Proudinsky, a bit rank early, and Acclamation stalked on his outside. With Lava Man maintaining an easy lead of about one length, they stayed that way through the clubhouse turn and down the backstretch through quarter-mile fractions of :24.06, :48.14 and 1:11.81.
Proudinsky turned up the pressure on Lava Man on the turn for home with Acclamation also moving into position on the outside. Lava Man, already being asked for more by Baze, was in trouble while drifting out as they made their way into the stretch run. He continued to fight to mid-stretch but was losing ground while racing slightly off the rail as Proudinsky gained a short lead over Acclamation in the middle of the track. Loup Breton, saving ground, got through along the inside as Lava Man gave way and drew even with Proudinsky, but the latter proved his toughness in the charge to the wire.
“It looked like Lava Man was going to be the speed in the race," Bejarano said. "When (Acclamation at the rail) broke a little slow, I knew we’d have try to get into position to put some pressure on. When we passed the half-mile pole, (Acclamation) pressed us from the outside, so I let my horse run to hold our position. At the top of the stretch, I asked him and he gave me a good turn of foot. I could see (Loup Breton) was really running on the rail, but my horse was running faster and they couldn’t catch him.”
O'Neill said the 8-year-old Lava Man, whose regenerated ankles through stem cell treatment and surgery led to the decision to race him again, returned with a gash on his right hind tibia, probably sustained while leaving the starting gate.
“He just got tired," O'Neill said. "That’s what Tyler commented on. I thought I had him more fit than that, but it’s hard to simulate a mile and an eight turf race in the mornings. When he asked him to kick on, he said he gave him something, but he just couldn’t sustain it.
"I’m bummed, yeah. I was very eager to see him run today because he had been training like the Lava Man of old, and again, he really never had much of a layoff during the whole 3-year campaign that we had him on, so this was kind of a new thing to see. He definitely disappointed me in his results, but he really made me real happy, the fact that he got back here and I thought he looked great striding out."
As for the future, O'Neill said, “We’ll talk with the boys (owners STD Racing and Jason Wood) and Dr. Doug Herthel and see how he comes out of it and just put our heads together and see what’s the right thing for Lava Man.”
Owned by Johanna Louise Glen-Teven, Proudinsky posted his seventh lifetime win in 22 starts and boosted his earnings to $1,225,953 with the San Gabriel winner's share of $90,000. Proudinsky was coming off a fourth-place finish behind his stablemate Fluke in Hollywood's Citation Handicap (gr. IT) Nov. 27.
A bay son of Silvano out of the Dashing Blade mare Proudeyes, Proudinsky was bred by Dr. R. Wilhelms.
Sent off as the narrow second choice, Proudinsky shared top weight of 119 pounds with the runner-up and Lava Man. He paid $5.60, $2.80 and $2.20, combining with Loup Breton ($2.80, $2.20) for a $15.20 exacta. The 3-year-old Acclamation, third in the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) in his last start for trainer Donald Warren, was $3 to show. Great Siege, Cherokee Artist, Sir Dave and Lava Man completed the order.