Lava Man and Corey Nakatani win the TVG Khaled Stakes, Sunday at Hollywood Park.

Lava Man and Corey Nakatani win the TVG Khaled Stakes, Sunday at Hollywood Park.


Lava Man Flows Again in Turf-Record Win

(from Hollywood Park report)
After winning million-dollar races in his last two starts, Lava Man successfully took on another challenge Sunday, shifting to turf and winning the $150,000 TVG Khaled Stakes at Hollywood Park in course record time of 1:44.26 for nine furlongs.

Owned by STD Racing and Jason Wood, Lava Man entered the race with two $1 million wins in 2006 -- in the Sunshine Millions Classic and most recently in the prestigious Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). Many questioned the move when trainer Doug O'Neill shifted the 2005 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) champion to the turf, but there was only applause following an awesome performance by the 5-year-old on the seventh annual Cal National Gold Rush program.

"Wow, what a performance!" jockey Corey Nakatani said. "You've gotta keep your horse in his type of game and in his element, and that's what we did this afternoon. He proved that he's an unbelievable horse.

"Doug was telling me before the race that he used to be a class horse on the turf, and that's ultimately why they claimed him," Nakatani added. "He was very consistent, and he's just a warrior out there. So I decided to just take no prisoners and go from there. If somebody wants to go to the lead, we'll let them. If not, I'll have him in a real good position and take it to them. And that's what we did."

Lava Man, the 3-5 favorite carrying high weight of 124 pounds, pressed pacesetter Skywalker Red much of the way while being carried a little wide, but took command with authority entering the far turn and was on cruise control approaching the wire.

"An incredible horse," O'Neill said. "Unbelievable, and like (announcer) Vic Stauffer said, they were kind of flying early and that worried me a little bit. But Corey just had him going easy. He knew where he was and what kind of horse he had underneath him. The time was just unbelievable."

Lava Man paid $3.40, $2.80, and $2.10 while banking $90,000 to increase his earnings to $2,274,706. He is 3-for-3 in 2006 and 10-for-30 lifetime, including four wins in 10 turf tries. Cheroot paid $6 and $2.80, while Super Strut paid $2.20.

O'Neill's luck turned for the worse one race later, when favorite Sam's Ace was pulled up at the half-mile pole by jockey Alex Solis with a right front ankle injury during the $250,000 Cal National Snow Chief Stakes at 1 1/8 miles, the featured event on the card. Sprint standout Da Stoops rallied on the final turn to get the lead and posted an impressive 5 ¼-length victory under jockey Victor Espinoza.

"He worked with (Kentucky Derby hopeful) Point Determined the other day," winning trainer Bob Baffert said. "He took the inside, and we gave him a head start. Point Determined caught up with him, and they galloped out really strong. I think that really set him up for this race. "

The workout convinced jockey Victor Espinoza his mount was ready.

"The distance was a bit of a question, but the way he worked and galloped out strong, I knew he could go the distance," Espinoza said. "Turning for home, he opened it up and took off. He's such a nice little horse. He has a big heart. And Baffert is winning everything, it gives you a lot of confidence."

Da Stoops could be headed for bigger things.

"I don't know what's next," Baffert said. "We want to see how he comes out of this. The owners got a little Preakness (gr. I) fever. So, yes, the Preakness is a possibility."

Da Stoops won for the fourth time in 11 starts, banking $150,000 to boost his earnings to $486,950. He paid $5, $3.80, and $4 as the second choice in the field of eight. Fighting City Hall returned $5.80 and $$5.20, while the show payoff on Scootin George was $5.80.

The Gold Rush program, featuring ten stakes worth $1.3-million for Cal-breds, included four other major stakes:

-- She's an Eleven cruised to a 9 ¼-length victory under jockey Garrett Gomez in the $200,000 Melair Stakes;
-- Lucky J.H. survived a bumping incident with runner-up Areyoutalkintome in the stretch to capture the $150,000 Tiznow, giving Espinoza his first of two wins on the card;
-- Memorette upset Dancing Edie and odds-on favorite Moscow Burning in the $150,000 Fran's Valentine;
-- Favorite Proposed scored a three-length victory in the $150,000 B. Thoughtful Stakes.

(Chart, Equibase)