Ganging up on Lava Man

first_img“I don’t think he’s (Lava Man) that big of a cinch in the race,” Specht said. “I think we have a chance of beating him if we get a good trip. It’s worth taking a shot.” Veteran Frank Alvarado, three for three aboard McCann’s Mojave, will be riding in his first Big ‘Cap. McCann’s Mojave, 15-1 on the morning line, is owned by Glendora resident Mike Willman, Santa Anita’s director of publicity. Lava Man’s regular rider, Corey Nakatani, is well aware of the dangers when a handicap horse concedes weight to other talented runners. Lava Man will carry 124 pounds, seven more than second choice Arson Squad (9-2) and eight more than Molengao. “I don’t think 124 pounds will bother him,” Nakatani said. “He’s a great horse, but anytime you give weight to horses like these, there’s a chance of getting beat. “Still, I know what kind of horse he is and I think he can handle it. He’s the best horse in the race and that’s how I’ll ride him.” “Lava Man is a tough horse and definitely the horse to beat, but in racing, you never know,” said jockey Victor Espinoza, who will be aboard San Antonio Handicap winner Molengao, the 6-1 third choice on the morning line. Perhaps the most outspoken challenger is Steve Specht, who conditions McCann’s Mojave, a 7-year-old son of Memo who has won three consecutive races and is coming off a victory in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park in Florida. Trainer Doug O’Neill, who will also saddle favored Great Hunter in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes earlier on the 11-race card, acknowledged the pressure that accompanies training a talented horse like Lava Man. “There’s always pressure anytime you’re fortunate enough to have a good stakes horse,” O’Neill said. “But he was up to the pressure all last year, and hopefully he’s up to it (today). “We feel we have him right.” The field, from the rail out, includes Awesome Gem, Tyler Baze, 116, 10-1; El Roblar, Richard Migliore, 114, 20-1; Boboman, Alex Solis, 115, 12-1; Ball Four, Julien Leparoux, 116, 15-1; Spring at Last, David Flores, 115, 15-1; Molengao; Lava Man; Arson Squad, Garrett Gomez; and McCann’s Mojave, 115. Lava Man already made history in 2006 by becoming the first horse to win Southern California’s top three handicap races – the Big ‘Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic – in the same year. The 6-year-old gelded son of Slew City Slew can join the legendary John Henry and Milwaukee Brew as the only two-time Big ‘Cap winners with a victory today. If he wins and comes out of the race in good shape, O’Neill has already indicated he’d like to run Lava Man in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free – a 11/8-mile turf race – on March 31. The horse’s connections are growing weary of the knock on Lava Man, that he’s a great horse in California but that he can’t ship out of state and win. He was seven for seven last year at home before a dismal seventh-place showing in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November. “I definitely think there was an inside bias at Churchill that day … any horse that was packed in the middle of the track early in the race on Breeders’ Cup day had a legitimate excuse,” O’Neill said. [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2103 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!center_img ARCADIA – On paper, Lava Man looks like a virtual cinch in today’s 70th running of the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap. But the connections of the other eight horses are hardly intimidated by the 4-5 morning-line favorite. last_img read more