Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap (gr. I) winner Lava Man, who will try to give trainer Doug O'Neill his second victory in three years in the Japan Cup Dirt, worked six furlongs in 1:12 1/5 at Hollywood Park Saturday morning and is set to head to Japan on Tuesday.
Lava Man heads what is expected to be a four-horse American contingent that could will include 2004 John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) winner Better Talk Now in the Japan Racing Association's top international events at Tokyo Racecourse on the weekend of Nov. 26-27.
The Nov. 27 Japan Cup, run at 2,400 meters, or about 1 1/2 miles on turf, offers an estimated purse of $4.45 million. The 2,100 meter (about 1 5/16 miles) Japan Cup Dirt on Nov. 26 has a purse of about $1.8 million.
The JRA indicated that Meadowlands Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) winner Tap Day will join Lava Man in the lineup for the Japan Cup Dirt. A third foreign invitee to the race is Eccentric, a group III winner in England who has considerable experience racing over the all-weather surface at Lingfield.
In addition to Better Talk Now, the United States is expected to be represented in the Japan Cup turf race by Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) winner King's Drama, who began his career in Europe, and solidified his standing with a convincing win in Saturday's Red Smith Handicap
(gr. IIT) at Aqueduct.
Europeans listed as probable for the Japan Cup are Ouija Board, winner of the VO5 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) in 2004 and runner-up in this year's Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf; Bago, winner of the 2004 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) and most recently fourth in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf; multiple group I winner Warrsan (15th in last year's Japan Cup); and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner Alkaased.
O'Neill, who sprung a 48-1 upset in the 2003 Japan Cup Dirt with Fleetstreet Dancer, gave Lava Man his final serious prep on Saturday morning at Hollywood Park. Under Corey Nakatani, who will ride Lava Man in the Japan Cup Dirt, the 4-year-old gelding by Slew City Slew went six furlongs in 1:12 1/5 in company with a 2-year-old O'Neill-trained filly, Star of Madraar.
"I was very happy with how we worked today," O'Neill said. "He'll fly over on Tuesday and have plenty of time to settle in. That's the problem he had in New York. We didn't give him enough time."
Lava Man comes off the worst effort of his career when seventh, beaten 45 1/2 lengths by Borrego, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at Belmont Park Oct. 1.
"He's such a solid horse," O'Neill said. "He shipped two days before that race. We were in three different stalls in two days. He got worked up in the paddock and bled, and he's not a bleeder. This time around, we'll have ample time. He's a legitimate grade I horse."
Like Fleetstreet Dancer, Lava Man is a former claimer, taken by O'Neill on behalf of STD Racing Stable and Jason Wood for $50,000 in a turf race at Del Mar in August 2004. He's four of 13 starts since then, including the Californian Stakes (gr. II) and Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park, followed by a close third behind Borrego and Perfect Drift in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar.