California-based Lava Man is scheduled to leave Tuesday for Keeneland Racecourse to prepare for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (gr. I) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4 and a possible showdown for Horse of the Year honors against likely favorite Bernardini.
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 14th win in 34 career starts. The victory pushed the ex-claimer's earnings to $3,804,706.
"Lava Man ships out Tuesday morning on Tex Sutton," trainer Doug O'Neill said on an overcast Monday morning at Santa Anita, where he was supervising several workouts. "He'll go to Keeneland, then we'll figure out when we'll send him over to Churchill. The game plan is to train him at Keeneland as long as we can."
Keeneland began its meet Friday and unveiled the synthetic surface, Polytrack, on its main track. O'Neill is based at Hollywood Park, which recently completed installation of a similar synthetic surface, Cushion Track.
Lava Man, winner of seven consecutive stakes, has never won outside of California. His two most disappointing efforts came in Japan and New York. But the 5-year-old California-bred gelding had foot problems and shipping issues, which O'Neill says he has under control.
"I think we definitely do have something to prove," he said about winning outside of the Golden State. "We definitely think we can do it. It's not like we're being bull-headed and going about the Classic the exact same way we went about the Jockey Club Gold Cup last year. We're going to do things different this year. He'll be back in Kentucky in ample time and he seems like he's as good as he's ever been, too, so it seems like a good time to tackle that challenge of running out of state. We're excited. We think he's got a big, big chance, obviously."