Lava Man, a bargain-basement $50,000 claim just three years ago, is dominating California racing -- just as he has consistently failed outside the Golden State.
Saturday, the 6-year-old Slew City Slew gelding won the Hollywood Gold Cup for a record-tying third straight year, nosing out A.P. Xcellent at the wire after a stirring stretch duel. In addition to the Gold Cup wins, the valiant gelding also has won the Santa Anita Handicap twice and the Pacific Classic once.
Saturday's effort was typical. After running in second while letting A.P. Xcellent set an uncontested pace, jockey Corey Nakatani brought Lava Man alongside the leader turning for home and gritted out the narrow victory. He also won the Gold Cup by a nose a year ago.
This year's running went in a slow 2:03.21 over the Hollywood Park synthetic surface.
Leandro Mora, assistant to winning trainer Doug O'Neill, said a defense of the Pacific Classic title next month at Del Mar is next up for the stable star. Beyond that, there are question marks.
Given Lava Man's dismal record outside California, he might be questionable for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, Powered by Dodge, this October on the East Coast, or for another try next March in Dubai, where he finished 16th, beaten nearly 30 lengths in the Duty Free this year.
But next year's Breeders' Cup will be run at Santa Anita and Lava Man will be only 7.
Other weekend races with a potential bearing on the Oct. 26-27 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Monmouth Park in New Jersey:
$ 5 million Classic, Powered by Dodge
-- Political Force shot through between rivals at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $400,000 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Fairbanks. Extreme longshot Malibu Moonshine was up for third, and the favorite, Corinthian, faded badly in the stretch to finish last of six. Political Force, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Unbridled's Song, ran the 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.5 with Cornelio Velasquez up for trainer Allen Jerkens. "We'll rest him up now," said Jerkens. "Maybe we'll try the Woodward (Sept. 1 at Saratoga). That's probably what we'll do -- give him a little rest now and point for that."
-- Delightful Kiss just missed making the Kentucky Derby field, but the Kissin Kris gelding hasn't missed a derby since. After winning the Ohio Derby at Thistledown June 2, trainer Pete Anderson shipped Delightful Kiss to Altoona, Iowa, for Friday night's $250,000 Iowa Derby and again came away with the top prize. After breaking from the outside in a field of 11, jockey Jeff Sanchez kept Delightful Kiss well back, advanced to the leaders as the field turned for home and then came six-wide to take the lead and win by 1 1/4 lengths. A 60-1 longshot, Flashstorm, led most of the way and held on for second, with Going Ballistic third. The favorite, Winstrella, stalked the pace and then faded to finish sixth. Delightful Kiss ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.05. Anderson said he told Sanchez not to move too early. "I asked him to wait longer. We're leaning toward West Virginia for his next race."
-- Dry Martini started at the back of the nine-horse field in Saturday's $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders' Cup, worked through traffic during the run down the backstretch and around the far turn, then doggedly kept running down the stretch to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Silent Pleasure was always in the mix, led at the top of the stretch and held on for third, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of the favorite, Patriot Act. Dry Martini, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Slew Gin Fizz, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.41. Elvis Trujillo rode for trainer Barclay Tagg. "I've never been in Iowa," Tagg said. "They told me if I wanted the horse, I'd have to come to Iowa. He'll probably run in a big race at Saratoga ... I thought he fit in here tonight. He's recorded six triple-digit Beyers."
-- In Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian) Dominion Day Stakes at Woodbine, near Toronto, True Metropolitan jumped right to the lead and maintained the advantage all the way to the wire, beating Mustanfar by 1/2 length. Palladio, the favorite, was third. True Metropolitan, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred son of Proud and True, got the 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather track in 2:04.2 with Todd Kabel riding for trainer Terry Jordan.
$3 million John Deere Turf
Out of Control battled down the stretch with heavy favorite The Tin Man in Saturday's $250,000 American Invitational Handicap at Hollywood Park and arrived at the wire just a head in front. Fast and Furious was just 1/2 length back with a late run. Out of Control, a 4-year-old, Brazilian-bred colt by Vettori, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.89 with Michael Baze up for trainer Bobby Frankel. Out of Control now has three wins, a second and a third in five starts in the United States this year. Saturday's race was his first stakes try. The Tin Man was coming off four straight wins, including last year's Arlington Million, since finishing second in the Dubai Duty Free in March 2006. Victor Espinoza, who rode The Tin Man, said the 10-pound weight differential probably made at least enough difference to cost his mount the victory.
$ 2 million Emirates Airline Distaff
-- Even though she had finished second five straight times coming into the race, it would have been a bit of a surprise to see any of her three rivals beat Octave in Saturday's $250,000 Mother Goose Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park. And no surprises were forthcoming as the Unbridled's Song filly, headed early in the stretch run by Lady Joanne, battled back outside to win by a 1/2 length. It was 7 3/4 lengths farther back to the third-place finisher, Boca Grande. Bold Assurance completed the order of finish. Octave, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, completed the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:47.19.
-- Marietta settled behind the leaders in Friday night's $200,000 Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows, moved to the front turning for home and drew off to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Humble Janet. The favorite, High Again, ran evenly to finish third. Marietta, a Darley Stable homebred daughter of Machiavellian, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.17 under Rafael Bejarano. She picked up her second victory but also has a third-place finished in the Grade III Selene Stakes at Woodbine in late May. "She's getting better and better every time we do something with her," said Brian Ange, assistant to trainer Eoin Harty. "She was a bit far back (in the Selene). She had a lot of work to do. Here, she really showed something tonight.
-- Brownie Points remained right behind the pace-setting longshot in Saturday's $125,000 Iowa Distaff Breeders' Cup at Prairie Meadows, took charge when asked by rider Luis Quinonez and held well to win by 3/4 length over Plaid. Dynabin was third and the favorite, Leah's Secret, finished fourth. Brownie Points, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Forest Wildcat, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.84. "We'll consider dirt and turf races in Chicago and some other places," said winning trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel."
-- In Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Bison City Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine, Sealy Hill lugged in during the stretch run, finished first and then was disqualified to third for interference. That promoted Street Sounds, an Ontario-bred daughter of Street Cry, to the victory and Quiet Jungle to place money. Ramon Dominguez rode Street Sounds for trainer Michael Matz. The 1 1/16 miles went in 1:44.01 on the all-weather track.
$1 million Filly & Mare Sprint
Miss Macy Sue chased the leaders widest of all in Friday's $100,000 Saylorville Stakes at Prairie Meadows, surged to the lead on the turn and got clear in the stretch to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Ready to Please was second with a late move and Country Diva finished third. Miss Macy Sue, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred filly by Trippi, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.66 with Larry Sterling Jr. up for trainer Kelly Von Hemel. She ran second in the same race last year. "We just keep challenging her," Von Hemel said. "After we enjoy tonight's win, we'll sit down and see what's next. I don't think we've seen the best of her yet."
$2 million TVG Sprint
Benny the Bull, well back early in Saturday's $125,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap at Prairie Meadows, bulled his way between horses with a furlong left and went on to win handily, by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Cougar Cat. Kingsfield finished third. Benny the Bull, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred colt by Lucky Lionel, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.48. Mark Guidry rode for trainer Jeff Talley. Talley said he thought his winner had promise "the first day I got him. This is a very important win for us. From here, its' up to owner Greg Jones where he goes."
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
Red Birkin ran a picture-perfect race in Saturday's $150,000 Boiling Springs Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Monmouth Park, except for drifting out sufficiently in the stretch run to get herself disqualified to third after a stewards' review. That handed the win to Rutherienne, who finished a neck back of Red Birkin. Sharp Susan was elevated to place and Red Birkin settled for show money. Rutherienne, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Pulpit, is trained by Roger Attfield. Jose Lezcano rode the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.6.
$2 million NetJets Mile (turf)
Remarkable News, no news to the bettors as he was sent to the post as the favorite, led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $250,000 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs. Never threatened, the 5-year-old, Venezuelan-bred son of Chayim coasted home a 2 3/4-lengths winner over Brilliant, with Outperformance finishing third. Remarkable News ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.74 under Ramon Dominguez. "I'm guessing he'll probably go to Saratoga," said Ruth Hargreaves, assistant to winning trainer Angel Penna Jr., "to the race he won last year, the Fourstardave. I think that's the plan."
$1 million Dirt Mile
Forty Grams got a wide trip in Saturday's $100,000 Alysheba Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds at Lone Star Park but shrugged that off to win by 1 3/4 lengths over stablemate Takedown. Strong City was third home. Forty Grams, with M. Berry up for trainer Steve Asmussen, ran the 1 mile on a "good" and sealed track in 1:38.79. Forty Grams is a Kentucky-bred colt by Distorted Humor.
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- Ready's Image blew away seven rivals in Sunday's $100,000 Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park, romping home a 7 3/4-lengths winner over Izzy Speaking. Twenty Eight Hours finished third. Ready's Image is a Maryland-bred son of More Than Ready, who won the 1999 Tremont for the same trainer and owner -- Todd Pletcher and Jim Scatuorchio. "It's scary how much he reminds us of More Than Ready," said Pletcher, "and that's why we bought him. The colt is likely to resurface at Saratoga for either the Saratoga Special on Aug.16 or the Sanford on July 26.
-- Honour Thy Lover led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $100,000 D.S. "Shine" Memorial Futurity for 2-year-olds at Evangeline Downs. Basically unchallenged on the lead under Steve Borque, the Honour and Glory colt won by 3 lengths over the favored entry of Jumpin for Jason and Must Acquit. Honour Thy Lover covered the 5 furlongs in 59.59 seconds.
$2 million Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies
-- Glacken's Gal set a pressured pace in Sunday's $100,000 Astoria Stakes at Belmont Park, finally worked out to a comfortable lead in the stretch and then had no trouble holding off the favorite, Dubit, to win by 2 lengths. My Mammy, one of those pressing the early furlongs, held on for third. Glacken's Gal, a New York-bred daughter of Smoke Glacken, finished the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.85 with John Velazquez up for trainer Todd Pletcher. Glacken's Gal now is 2-for-2 and headed for the Schuylerville on Opening Day at the Spa. "I wasn't sure about her at the top of the stretch," Pletcher said. "It looked like the favorite was loaded for bear and once she found a place to go, I thought she'd be hard to beat."
-- The Golden Noodle, a Montana-bred daughter of D'wildcat, came from well back to post a major upset in Saturday's $100,000 Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park, beating Treadmill by 3 1/2 lengths with Set Play third. The favorite, Elocution, finished fifth. The Golden Noodle, trained by Jack Van Berg and ridden by Clinton Potts, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:11.49. "She ran by them like they were broke down," Van Berg said of his Montana-bred filly.
-- Swifty Victress swiftly went to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 D.S. "Shine" Young Memorial Futurity for 2-year-old Louisiana-bred fillies at Evangeline Downs and kept on running. At the wire, the gray Macho Uno filly was first, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of the favorite entry of Hisse and Iknowuthinkimsexy. Swifty Victress ran the 5 furlongs on a fast track in 59.96 seconds with Sylvester Carmouche Jr. in the irons.
In other weekend racing:
Legal Move stalked the leaders in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Achievement Stakes for 3-year-olds, made a move to the front entering the stretch and held off the late bid of Dancer's Bajan to win by a neck. Red Ruffles finished third. Legal Move, an Ontario-bred colt by Bold Executive, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.49 under Patrick Husbands. "He just amazes me," said trainer Mark Casse. "He trains just like an average horse but he has a great desire to win."
Leesa Lee rallied from mid-pack to upset front-running Indigo Girl by 1 1/4 lengths in Saturday's $100,000 Pierre LeBlanc Memorial Ladies Sprint, covering the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.96. Cutie Sabrina finished third.
Ahead of Her Time rallied past the early leader entering the second turn in Saturday's $75,000 Frank A. "Buddy" Abadie Memorial for 3-year-old fillies and left nine rivals in the dust, winning by 12 3/4 lengths. Many Moons was best of the rest, with Prestons Star third.
Cort's P.B. rallied four-wide around the leaders to win Saturday's $100,000 Junius Delahoussaye Memorial Sprint by 1 1/2 lengths over Magic Sunset with Fass Feat third. Corty's P.B. ran the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.41.
Madison's Music led all the way to a dominating, 11 1/4-lengths victory over Punchy Louise in Saturday's $100,000 J. Archie Sebastien Memorial for fillies and mares. Raspberry wine finished third. Madison's Music ran the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:42.46.
Grand Minit took the lead on the outside turning for home in Saturday's $100,000 Pola Benoit Memorial Stakes and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Diggy Fresh. The favorite, Costa Rising, led briefly and barely held on for third-place money. Grand Minit ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.00.
Pyrite Personal sat right behind the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Cleveland Gold Cup for Ohio-bred 3-year-olds, surged to the lead on the stretch turn and drew clear easily, winning by 5 lengths over entrymate Pay the Man. Smammy was third and Head to Toe completed the trifecta. Pyrite Personal, a son of Bernstein, got the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.22 with Ricardo Feliciano in the irons.
Spaghetti Mouse roared to the lead three-wide on the turn in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Lieutenant Governor Handicap and got clear to win by 2 lengths over Timeless Passion. Forceful Intention finished third. Spaghetti Mouse, a 5-year-old, British Columbia-bred gelding by Archers Bay, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.61 with David Wilson riding.
Astor Park stalked pace-setter Princess Janie in Saturday's $60,000 Dearly Precious Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got past on the outside turning for home and drew off to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Princess Janie held second, 1 length ahead of Bianco. Astor Park, a Kentucky-bred filly by Ecton Park, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.96.
In Sunday's $60,000 Klassy Briefcase Stakes for fillies and mares, Serena's Cat rallied past pace-setting Pure Disco at the wire to win by a nose. Cherokee Jewel finished third, 1 1/2 lengths farther back. Serena's Cat, a 4-year-old filly by Storm Cat out of the Mr. Prospector mare Serena's Tune, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.61 with Eddie Castro up.
Calder Race Course
Delosvientos led all the way to win Sunday's $50,000, 1 1/2-mile Arthur L. Stakes by 15 lengths over Kristali. Joey Blueeyes finished third and three of the eight starters chucked it before the finish and were eased. Delosvientos, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Siphon, finished in 2:33.87 under David Boraco.
Lone Star Park
Alice Belle had a few traffic issues in Saturday's $50,000 Lone Star Oaks but overcame all that and closed well to win by a 1/2 length over Katys Gold Touch. Kid Majic finished third. Alice Belle, a Kentucky-bred filly by Street Cry, ran 1 1/16 mile on soft turf in 1:44.62 with Richard Eramia in the irons.
Throng opened a big advantage in Saturday's $45,000 Dr. Fager Stakes, then held on at the end to win by a neck over an onrushing Demeteor. Restless Man was well back in third. Throng, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Silver Deputy, got the 9 furlongs on the all-weather surface in 1:51.04 with Rene Douglas aboard for trainer Todd Pletcher.