INGLEWOOD, Calif. (Dec. 10, 2009) — Three-time Hollywood Gold Cup winner Lava Man will make his first start in 16 months in Saturday’s $100,000 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park.
The 8-year-old gelding will carry high weight of 118 pounds while making his 47th start in the 1 1/8-mile Native Diver, a Grade III event.
Lava Man, owned by STD Racing Stable and Jason Wood, matched Native Diver with his third consecutive Hollywood Gold Cup victory in 2007. He ran three times in 2008 — his best effort a third in the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap when he was only beaten a neck — but he missed the Gold Cup and was retired after finishing sixth in the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar on July 20.
Lava Man underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his ankles and responded to stem cell treatment at Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center before rehabilitating at Magali Farm.
He has worked steadily at Hollywood Park since returning to his long-time home base in September.
“It’s hard to tell how we will do after such a long layoff,” trainer Doug O’Neill said. He’s training phenomenal. He probably needs a race or two before he’s back at the top-top level, but he’s shown us he’s ready to return at major competition.”
“It’s nice to dream about a fourth Gold Cup next summer, but for now I’m just so excited to have him back,” O’Neill added. “He looks like a happy camper, and I can’t wait for Saturday.”
Lava Man has won 17 races for earnings of $5,268,706. All but $98,603 has come since O’Neill claimed him for $50,000 from his 13th start on Aug. 13, 2004, at Del Mar. The California-bred son of Slew City Slew went on to win seven Grade I races, including the trio of Gold Cups, the Santa Anita Handicap twice and the Pacific Classic.
Lava Man won the 2005 Gold Cup by a record 8 ¾ lengths, then showed his grit by winning his second and third Gold Cups by a nose under high weight. A throwback of sorts, he registered his other Grade I win on turf in the 2006 Whittingham. One start earlier, he set a course record of 1:44.26 for 1 1/8 miles in the TVG Khaled Stakes.
Lava Man will be joined in the Native Diver by 2008 Gold Cup winner Mast Track, who scored a front-running victory for the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel. The win was the third in the Gold Cup for Frankel, who became the first person to breed, own and trainer a Gold Cup winner.
Mast Track, now officially trained by Frankel’s assistant of 35 years, Humberto Ascanio, has not won since the Gold Cup, but looks sharp.
“He has been training real well and I expect a good effort out of him in the race,” Ascanio said.
The Native Diver, which will be contested for the 31st time, drew a field of six and lines up as follows from the rail out:
Mast Track, with Rafael Bejarano up, carries 116 pounds; Lava Man, Joel Rosario, 118; Square Eddie, Garrett Gomez, 115; Neko Bay, Mike Smith, 116; High Court Drama, Michael Baze, 113, and Tres Borrachos, Victor Espinoza, 115.
O’Neill will also saddle Irish-bred High Court Drama and Square Eddie. The former won his North American debut here at nine furlongs on turf in mid-November, while the latter enters following a tenth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
Neko Bay also made his last start in the Breeders’ Cup, finishing sixth in the Dirt Mile, while front-running Tres Borrachos won the 2008 Swaps Stakes here and finished second in the 2009 Gold Cup.
The Native Diver will run as the seventh race on Saturday’s nine-race program at Hollywood Park. First post time is 12:30 p.m.
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