The return of three-time Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Lava Man and a 13-horse field in the richest event of the day, the $250,000 Cal National Snow Chief Stakes, highlights the $1.3-million Cal National Gold Rush program at Hollywood Park April 27.
Lava Man will have to contend with defending champion Epic Power as he attempts to win his second TVG Khaled Stakes in three years.
On the comeback trail after being turned out for a rest in the fall of 2007, Lava Man will break from post 4 in the six-horse Khaled field as he attempts to regain the form that saw him match legendary Native Diver as a three-time Gold Cup champion.
The Doug O'Neill-trained gelding, one of the most popular California-breds of all-time, enters the one-mile Khaled with 17 wins in 43 starts and earnings of $5,214,706. Claimed by STD Racing and Jason Wood at Del Mar in 2004, he began a streak of three straight Gold Cup victories with a record 8 1/2-length win in 2005. After winning the last two Gold Cups by a nose each time, he is the richest claiming horse in history.
The 7-year-old son of Slew City Slew is an accomplished runner on the turf course as well as the main track. He won the Khaled in a course-record time of 1:44.26 in 2006 and went on to beat a tough field of turf horses in the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT) before capturing his second Gold Cup.
Lava Man will be ridden by Corey Nakatani, who has been aboard in his last 17 starts, including 10 victories.
The 1 1/8-mile Khaled, the fourth race on the program, lines up as follows from the rail out: Celtic Dreamin, with Alex Solis up, carries 124 pounds; Mr. Wolverine, Michael Baze, 118; Epic Power, Martin Garcia, 122; Lava Man, Corey Nakatani, 124; Dawn's Early Sky, Alonso Quinonez, 116; and Top This and That, 116.
Epic Power, also a 7-year-old, beat Running Free by a neck in the 2007 Khaled and won the Korbel Handicap at Hollywood one start later, but has failed to win in his last eight starts. He enters the race with 12 wins in 56 races and earnings of $657,435.
Celtic Dreamin has won $600,543 with six wins and four seconds in just 11 starts. Winner of the one-mile Crystal Water Handicap in his last start, the 4-year-old gelding captured the British Columbia Derby in 2007 at Hastings Park before finishing second in the Cal Cup Classic and second in the 2008 Sunshine Millions Classic.
Lava Man, third-leading California-bred earner behind Tiznow ($6,427,830) and Best Pal ($5,668,245), is the star performer on the April 27 program featuring California-bred horses, but the most lucrative event of the day is the Snow Chief Stakes.
The wide-open affair, contested at 1 1/8 miles on the Cushion Track, drew a field of 13 and runs as the ninth race on the 10-race program.
Garrett Gomez, the country's leading jockey the past two years and the 2007 Eclipse Award winner, will return from Kentucky to fulfill several engagements, including the mount on Dean Pederson-trained Pleasure Grounds in the Snow Chief. The Northern California shipper has three wins and two seconds in six starts for earnings of $86,780. Most recently, he finished fourth in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Bay Meadows.
Other top races on the program are the $200,000 Melair for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/6 miles; the $150,000 B. Thoughtful for older fillies and mares going seven furlongs; the $150,000 Fran's Valentine over 1 1/16 miles on the turf; and the $150,000 Tiznow for older horses at 7 1/2 furlongs.
The Gold Rush program begins with a special 12:30 p.m. post time.