Trainer Doug O’Neill said Sunday that Lava Man would be joined by stablemates Square Eddie and High Court Drama in the $100,000 Native Diver Handicap, a Grade III test at 1 1/8 miles on Cushion Track Saturday at Hollywood Park.
While Lava Man galloped on the main track for his first start in more than 16 months, his stablemates both worked: Square Eddie four furlongs in a bullet 47.40 seconds under exercise rider David Meah, and High Court Drama five furlongs in 1:02.20 under exercise rider Sal Santiago.
“Lava Man looked just great,” said O’Neill, anxious for the comeback race of the superstar who returned from retirement following stem-cell therapy on his front ankles.
Lava Man, an 8-year-old gelding, has won 17 of 46 starts and earned $5,268,706, most of it after O’Neill claimed him for $50,000 in August of his 3-year-old year. Lava Man seeks his first victory since his third successive score in the 2007 Hollywood Gold Cup and will be ridden for the first time by Joel Rosario. O’Neill and Rosario teamed to win the race last year with Slew’s Tizzy.
Square Eddie seeks his first victory since capturing the Grade I Breeders Futurity at Keeneland in his 2008 United States debut and will be ridden for the first time by Garrett Gomez. Owner J. Paul Reddam was the last to win the Native Diver with a 3-year-old, Momentum in 2001.
Irish import High Court Drama won his United States debut on the turf here Nov. 15 and had a good record on Polytrack in Ireland with two firsts and two seconds in six outings.
Mast Track, who has lost nine straight races since capturing the 2008 Hollywood Gold Cup for the late Bobby Frankel, will try to end that streak in the Native Diver.
“I was pleased the way he worked,” said trainer Humberto Ascanio after the 5-year-old horse drilled five furlongs in 1:00.40 under exercise rider Jose Dominguez Sunday.
“He has been training real well and I expect a good effort out of him in the race,” said Ascanio, Frankel’s long-time assistant who took over the stable following his death on Nov. 16. Mast Track will be reunited with Rafael Bejarano, who has guided him to three of his five career victories.
Mast Track finished second, a length behind Neko Bay, in his last start in an allowance race at Santa Anita on Oct. 9. Neko Bay, a lightly-raced 6-year-old horse who returned to finish sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, is expected to start in the Native Diver for trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Mike Smith.
Whatsthescript, a multiple graded stakes winner on turf, will try synthetic for the second time in his career in an attempt to snap a seven-race losing streak. Alex Solis will ride the 5-year-old Irish-bred horse for the first time for trainer John Sadler.
Other probable starters include 2008 Swaps Stakes winner Tres Borrachos (Victor Espinoza), Cigar Man and Viscount.
Amen Hallelujah, third-place finisher in the Grade I Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland in her last start on Oct. 9, will be supplemented to the $300,000, Grade I Hollywood Starlet for 2-year-old fillies here Dec. 20, closing day of the Autumn Meet.
“IEAH (Stables) will be shipping her out to me from New York,” said Santa Anita-based trainer Gary Stevens Sunday of the horse who sounds as though she should have a prayer in every start. “All her races have been on synthetic tracks.”
Amen Hallelujah, a Florida-bred by Montbrook, began her career at Arlington Park, winning two of four starts sprinting for trainer Steve Asmussen.
IEAH purchased her privately in September and transferred her to trainer Richard Dutrow, who sent her out to a third-place finish in the Alcibiades at the Starlet distance of 1 1/16 miles. She was beaten by 2 ¾ lengths and finished behind Negligee and She Be Wild, who came back to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
IEAH was co-owner of Laragh, winner of the 2008 Starlet.
Alex Solis has the Starlet call in quest of a third victory. He won in 1989 aboard Cheval Volant and in 2000 with I Believe In You.
Rafael Bejarano, who won the 2007 Starlet on Country Star, has taken a call on Blind Luck, winner of the Oak Leaf Stakes and third-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Other probable starters include Juvenile Fillies runner-up Beautician (Robby Albarado), Moccasin Stakes winner Bickersons (Joseph Talamo) and Moccasin runner-up Miss Heather Lee.
FINISH LINES — Lookin at Lucky heads a quartet of Bob Baffert trainees under consideration for the $750,000 CashCall Futurity on Dec. 19. Lookin at Lucky, winner of the Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk Stakes and an unlucky second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, will be again ridden by Garrett Gomez, who guided Pioneerof the Nile to victory last year, Baffert’s fourth…Gomez is returning to California after a weekend of international all-star jockey competition in Japan. Joseph Talamo leaves for a week in the Far East Sunday night on a 10 p.m. flight. “I got up at 4 this morning and worked nine,” said Talamo from the stable area. “I will sleep good tonight.” Talamo will ride in all-star competition in Japan Wednesday and ride California Flag in the $1.8-million Hong Kong Sprint Sunday.
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