"Fantastic!" responded trainer Doug O'Neill when asked how Lava Man has been training since his disappointing Pacific Classic.
The whispers that Lava Man, a winner of $5,209,706 in his star-studded career, may be slowing down started when he was all out to win the June 30 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) by a nose over A.P. Xcellent. The criticism grew louder when Lava Man faded in the stretch run to finish sixth in the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic at Del Mar Aug. 19. He finished seven lengths behind the victorious Student Council in a race won in 2:07 1/5 over a tiring Polytrack surface.
Student Council will not run in the Goodwood.
Lava Man gets back on the Cushion Track for the 1 1/8-mile Goodwood. The 6-year-old Cal-bred gelding -- who last year became the first horse in history to sweep the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic -- is facing several who also return from the '07 Pacific Classic, as well as an intriguing newcomer in the Chicago-based Lewis Michael. Lava Man is tough at nine furlongs, winning five times in nine starts.
Even though the Goodwood is part of the "Win and You're In" challenge for the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I), O'Neill has said that Lava Man -- should he compete at Monmouth Park next month -- is more likely to run in the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) on the turf or in the new Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
The Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IIT) on Oct. 7 is also under consideration for Lava Man, although O'Neill said he was leaning toward the Goodwood.
Lava Man brings a 17-8-3 record in 41 lifetime starts into the Goodwood for owners STD Racing and Jason Wood.
Lewis Michael, a 4-year-old full brother to 2006 juvenile filly champion Dreaming of Anna, comes into the Goodwood off a layoff since his 4 3/4-length romp as the odds-on choice in the Washington Park Handicap (gr. II) on the Arlington Park Polytrack July 28. The Rahy colt has enjoyed a tremendous campaign for owner/breeder Frank Calabrese and trainer Wayne Catalano with three wins and two seconds in five starts this year.
Seldom seen 3-year-old Tiago, scratched from the Pacific Classic by trainer John Shirreffs, is set for his first start since capturing the Swaps (gr. II) at Hollywood Park in July. The Goodwood would be just the second outing for the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner since his third-place finish in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
Awesome Gem closed best of all for second in the Pacific Classic, losing by just a half-length after gaining three lengths in the stretch run on Student Council. Awesome Gem won the San Fernando Breeders' Cup (gr. II) on the old Santa Anita dirt course in January.
Hello Sunday (third), Arson Squad (fourth), Big Booster (fifth), Porfido (seventh) and A.P. Xcellent (ninth) also exit the Pacific Classic.
$500,000 Goodwood Handicap (gr. I, Race 9, 4:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey
1. Arson Squad (PA), Victor Espinoza
2. Hello Sunday (FR), Brice Blanc
3. Lewis Michael (KY), E. T. Baird
4. Tiago (KY), Mike E. Smith
5. Porfido (CHI), Joel Rosario
6. Big Booster (KY), Michael C. Baze
7. Lava Man (CA), Corey S. Nakatani
8. Awesome Gem (KY), David R. Flores
9. A. P. Xcellent (KY), Jose Valdivia, Jr.
10. Wanna Runner (ON), Tyler Baze
Each assigned 124 pounds.