Lava Man, O'Neill Contingent, Ship to Churchill

(from Churchill Downs notes)
Lava Man, a leading contender for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I), and Great Hunter, winner of Keeneland's Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) and a major contender for the Bessemer Trust Juvenile (gr. I), led the Doug O'Neill contingent that arrived at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

The two stars were among seven horses trained by the Southern California-based O'Neill that traveled by van from Keeneland on Saturday. The Bob Hubbard Horse Transportation van arrived on the grounds around 1:15 p.m. (EDT).

STD Racing and Jason Wood's Lava Man's accomplishments would make him the Classic favorite in most years, but he figures to be the second choice in the 1 ΒΌ-mile race to Darley Stable's 3-year-old Bernardini. A 5-year-old Slew City Slew gelding who was claimed for $50,000 earlier in his career, Lava Man made history this year as the only horse to sweep California's top grade I handicaps: the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic.

He has earned $3,804,706 while compiling a record of 14-7-3 in 34 starts. He is perfect in seven races in 2006, a victory string that also includes a grade I turf win in the Charles Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood Park.

J. Paul Reddam's Great Hunter emerged as a top contender for the Bessemer Trust Juvenile with a victory over Keeneland's Polytrack surface in the Breeders' Futurity.

Other Breeders' Cup hopefuls in the O'Neill group include Royce Jaime and Suarez Racing's Thor's Echo (TVG Sprint), Ron Manzani and Russ Sarno's Areyoutalkintome (TVG Sprint), and Reddam, Suarez Racing, and Mark Schlesinger's Sharp Lisa (Emirates Airline Distaff).

O'Neill's horses worked over Keeneland's Polytrack surface on Friday before they boarded the van bound for Churchill Downs on Saturday.