Lava Man is prepping for BC at Keeneland.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Lava Man is prepping for BC at Keeneland.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

Lava Man Ships Early, Settles in at Keeneland

After shipping into Kentucky Oct. 10, the California-based Lava Man is adjusting well to his new surroundings at Keeneland Race Course as he preps for the $5- million Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Nov. 4. According to trainer Doug O'Neill, the 5-year-old gelding settled in without a problem and is galloping daily over Keeneland's new Polytrack synthetic surface.

"He's doing fantastic," O'Neill said at Keeneland Oct. 18. "One of the main reasons we came here before Churchill was the fact that he was training so well on the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park. We're just trying to keep him healthy and happy as long as we can, and we thought that was the smartest move."

Keeneland's newly-installed Polytrack surface is attracting an increasing number of top trainers from across the country, including O'Neill, whose Hollywood Park base installed Cushion Track (a similar synthetic surface) a few months ago.

"As far as the surface here goes, it's very similar to me," O'Neill said. "The horses get over it well but get a lot out of it; they seem to get a good blow out of it."

Lava Man solidified his status as the best older horse on the West Coast when he won the Oct. 7 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) for his 7th consecutive victory and 14th win in 34 career starts, but he has never won outside of his home state.

"It's been well-documented that he hasn't had a tremendous amount of success shipping out of California, and previously we'd shipped right on top of his out-of-state races, about 2 or 3 days out," said O'Neill. "We really thought we'd get the plane ride and all of that stuff out of the way, and so far so good. We love the way he's eating; he's settled in and looks great."

O'Neill said the former claimer will work over the Keeneland surface under regular rider Tony Romero one time before Nov. 4, most likely Oct. 28, then move to Churchill Downs seven days prior to the Classic. O'Neill will also ship Great Hunter, winner of the Oct. 7 Lane's End Futurity and a hopeful starter for the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), to Louisville at that time.

"Great Hunter is a beautiful horse," said the California trainer. "My brother Dennis and Paul Reddam were the ones who pulled the trigger on him, and with his pedigree, we're really excited. To see him run the way we had hoped (in the Lane's End) was really special. He came out of the race great and – knock on wood – he's due for a move forward in the Breeders' Cup."