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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Lava Man Is No Dead Wood

- "The original rags to riches!" exclaimed an excited Vic Stauffer as Lava Man, the 7-5 favorite, gutted out his third straight Hollywood Gold Cup win with a desperate late lunge. AP Excellent was a stubborn foe who would not go away. It appeared as if Lava Man had him put away when he ranged up and passed him on the turn. He did so easily enough that Stauffer announced that Lava Man "will have to deal with Molengao," the close second choice at 8-5, who was coming three wide. But no sooner than those words came out of his mouth, Molengao had already been left behind. The resilient AP Excellent was back in front, and, in receipt of eight pounds from Lava Man, and having set moderate fractions of 48.75 and 1:13.35, dug in stubbornly to the end.

"When a horse digs in like mine, usually that outside horse will fold a little," [Mike] Smith said of the runner-up finish. "That's what I needed him to do, but he didn't do it, he kept coming back at me. Both horses were really duking it out and throwing it down." [Bloodhorse]
Jerry Lambert, the regular rider of Native Diver, whose record of three Cups in a row Lava Man tied, was in the winner's circle.
"I think he would have had a little trouble catching Native Diver....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." [LA Times]
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. Nonetheless, as winning rider Corey Nakatani said, "He's gutsy and just wouldn't give up. All I can say is, Wow!"' [AP]

So let's second that emotion and say, Wow! Lava Man may not like to travel outside of California, but it's heroic performances like this that make that transgression one we can overlook. He may not win any Eclipse Awards like that, but he can win our admiration nonetheless.

The Suburban at Belmont was far less inspiring. Favored Corinthian tried to make a move on the turn, but had nothing and finished dead last.
"He laid his life down last time, but today he just wasn't up to it," jockey Kent Desormeaux said of Corinthian. "I banged on him a couple of times, but it was like spanking dead wood." [NY Post]
There's a nice visual image for you. While the 3-2 was floundering wide, Cornelio Velasquez worked out a great ground-saving trip on Political Force and was able to wear down a resistant Fairbanks. The latter, an original riches to rags story, was trying to justify his $1.85 million price tag with a Grade 1 win. He was bet strongly, going off as the 2-1 second choice off a huge Beyer earned in his Grade 3 win in the Tokyo City. Beyer figs carry much cachet with the bettors these days. Nonetheless, he was clearly second best, with 55-1 Malibu Moonshine checking in third.

The winner tired and drifted out during a final quarter of 25.60. "He was getting late," said winning trainer Allen Jerkens. The Chief won the Suburban for the 4th time, with the first one coming in 1962 with Beau Purple! He also won in 1993 and 1994 with Devil His Due. Political Force (Unbridled's Song) struggled to win in entry-level allowance company last summer, with four fruitless tries, all at odds of 4-1 or less, at Saratoga last summer. This was his first stakes win after three prior tries this year, including his second to Corinthian in the G1 Met Mile. No doubt he's improved, but also little doubt that the Grade 1 company he's been facing is below par. Jerkens said:
"At least he's got his Grade 1. We'll rest him up now, probably look for two more races and then the Breeders' Cup. You've got to think big."
If he's the best the older horse division has to offer come Breeders Cup day, maybe Lava Man can get that Eclipse while staying home after all.


Nellie said...

That was a great call, though I have to confess it took me quite a while to figure out what Stauffer meant... when I first heard it, it seemed a little silly. Later in the night, I suddenly 'got it'. Guess I'm slow.

If he's still doing this next year, with the BC at Santa Anita, he may just have a very real shot at HotY. I think the California thing is just a quirk and not a deficiency. I'm still convinced it's because of the seismic activity.

Brett said...

Oh my, 3.2 carryover tom at Hollywood. Simply Outstanding!

Anonymous said...

Call me crazy, but while the race and Lava Man's feats were impressive, there's only one Rags To Riches story. Beating up on a Grade III field in a Grade I race doesn't give me the warm and fuzzies. And while Native Diver was the same way, winning a lot in SoCal but not outside of it, it is a deficiency, because the SoCal handicap division has been incredibly weak the last couple of years, and the best in the division, when they haven't been injured, retired or bought by the Sheikhs, just haven't been racing on the Coast. When they get their Invasor, someone who can win out there and someone who could be a great nemesis for Lava Man to boost his rep, then maybe I'll me more disposed to root LM on.

All that said, it was anvexciting finish. It just came against a largely average bunch, Molengao and now maybe A P Xcellent aside.