where the horse is always the hero
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Posted 2006-08-23 00:00:00  
Lava Man continues to flow with easy Pacific Classic victory

Jockey Corey Nakatani has been aboard some talented horses over the years, but Lava Man might be in the process of proving to be the best of them all.

The five-year-old Slew City Slew gelding, claimed for $50,000 by STD Racing Stable and Jason Wood two summers ago, rated just off pacesetter Preachinatthebar`s inside shoulder through a half-mile, inched in front, then took command with a powerful move in the turn en route to a 2 ½-length victory in the $1-million Pacific Classic Stakes (G1) on Sunday at Del Mar.

The victory was the sixth in as many starts this season for Lava Man, who became the first horse ever to win the Santa Anita (G1) and Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) Handicaps and the Pacific Classic in the same season.

"This horse has gears; so many gears," Nakatani said. "What a horse. He`s just about unbelievable. He`s surely as good as any good horse I`ve ever ridden. He may even be better. He`s something."

Sent off as the even-money favorite, Lava Man rated easily behind Preachinatthebar, who took the field through moderate early fractions of :23.28 and :46.79.

Entering the far turn, Preachinatthebar and Lava Man were joined by Magnum (Arg) and Super Frolic, and the quartet spread out four wide through the middle part of the turn.

At that point, Nakatani urged Lava Man forward and he took off with authority, opening up a three-length lead through a mile and holding a 2 ½-length lead all the way through the stretch. He covered 1 ¼ miles in 2:01.62 over a fast track.

"When I hit the button at the three-eighths (pole), I wanted him to kick away from them," said Nakatani, who won his fourth stakes victory of the current Del Mar meeting and earned his first Pacific Classic triumph. "I wanted him to put some distance between us and the field. And he did that. He did everything I asked of him—and less. After he cleared in the stretch, he just started waiting on them."

Grade 1 winner Good Reward held his position through the stretch to take second, a half-length in front of Grade 2 winner Super Frolic.

"When I saw Corey on Lava Man go, I went too," said jockey Garrett Gomez, who rode Good Reward. "We went up through the same hole and he gave me some fire. But then when I shifted him out, he went a little flat. But still, he ran good."

Grade 1 winner Perfect Drift, the runner-up in the 2004-`05 runnings of the Pacific Classic, had nothing left in the stretch and finished fourth, two lengths in front of 2005 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Giacomo.

Trainer Doug O`Neill could not say enough about Nakatani`s patience aboard the heavy favorite.

"Corey just rode a great race," said O`Neill, who picked up his first Pacific Classic victory in his fourth attempt. "We kept worrying about what kind of trip we were going to get from the two hole, but Corey just rode him absolutely to a T.

"I want to thank Jason Wood and the Kenlys [STD Racing Stable] for making it possible. I just hope every trainer and owner can be around a horse like this some time."

Bred in California by Lonnie Arterburn, Eve Kuhlmann, and Kim Kuhlmann, Lava Man has won 13 of his 33 career starts and earned $3,504,706—$2,470,000 of which has come this season. He is one of three winners out of the winning Nostalgia`s Star mare Li`l Ms. Leonard.

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