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Lava Man uses nose to equal Native Diver

Times Staff Writer

Only one of the hundred-plus people who were part of the winner’s circle celebration after Lava Man’s latest victory in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup had mixed emotions about the outcome Saturday.

A part of Jerry Lambert, the regular rider for Native Diver, wanted that legendary thoroughbred to continue to stand alone as the only horse to win Hollywood Park’s signature race three years running as he did from 1965-67.

Forty years after Native Diver’s Inglewood swan song, Lava Man made sure he had company in history with a thrilling nose victory over pacesetter and 8-1 shot A.P. Xcellent.

This was the second year in a row Lava Man, the 7-5 favorite, had narrowly won the Grade I after rolling to a record 8 3/4 -length score in his first win in the race in 2005. He overcame a stumbling start to defeat Ace Blue by inches nearly 12 months ago.

In the first Gold Cup run over a synthetic surface, Lava Man didn’t have to run particularly fast at any stage to earn his 17th career victory and push his earnings to nearly $5.2 million. The final time for the 1 1/4 miles was 2:03.21, which made it the slowest Gold Cup since Seabiscuit won in 2:03 4/5 in 1938.

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While believing the 6-year-old gelding’s win Saturday was a positive for racing, Lambert smiled when asked how he thinks Lava Man would have fared if matched against the speedy Native Diver.

“I think he would have had a little trouble catching Native Diver,” said Lambert. “Native Diver never got to go 24 and 48 [the first two fractions were 24.19 and 48.75 seconds] in any of his races. He never had it that easy.”

The pedestrian fractions meant A.P. Xcellent, who has picked up all three of his wins on the local Cushion Track, was a stubborn foe in the final quarter of a mile and it wasn’t until just before the wire that Lava Man, who was never far off the lead while perfectly positioned by jockey Corey Nakatani, was able to get the lead.

The win ended a rare two-race losing streak for Lava Man. He will head to Del Mar with a chance to complete a Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic sweep for a second consecutive year. The $1-million Classic will be run Aug. 19.

“This one meant a lot,” said Steve Kenly, who, along with Dave and Tracy Kenly and Jason Wood and trainer Doug O’Neill, claimed the California-bred for $50,000 in the summer of 2004. “A record like Native Diver’s is something. This one is extra special for me because this is the race that kind of defined him as a special horse two years ago. We were happy to be in the race then. We would have been very happy to have run third that day.”

The loss was a tough one for A.P. Xcellent, who felt jockey Mike Smith’s whip numerous times in the closing yards.

“Both horses were really duking it out and throwing it down,” Smith said. “Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. He gave me everything he had.”

Big Booster, a 24-1 shot who had been claimed for $62,500 earlier in the year, finished third, less than one length behind Lava Man. Molengao, the 8-5 second choice, finished in a dead heat for fourth with Porfido, the longest shot in the field at 51-1.

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Out Of Control, a 5-1 shot who was making his first graded stakes appearance in this country, defeated 4-5 favorite The Tin Man, who was conceding 10 pounds (123-113) by a head to win the $250,000 American Invitational Handicap.

The loss ended a four-race win streak for The Tin Man and kept him from becoming the first three-time winner of the American.

Two races later, Golden Noodle, a maiden and the third-longest shot in the field at 33-1, easily captured the $111,000 Landaluce.

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In the two Grade I races at Belmont Park, favored Octave won the $250,000 Mother Goose and 5-1 shot Political Force took the $400,000 Suburban Handicap. Remarkable News, the 8-5 favorite, won the $250,000 Firecracker at Churchill Downs.

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Thanks to a string of upsets, there is a pick six carry-over for today at Hollywood Park of $1,386,235.

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bob.mieszerski@latimes.com


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