Two key men in Doug O'Neill's Del Mar barn were saddened by the announcement that 2006 Pacific Classic champion and earner of $5.2 million Lava Man won't be coming to the barn anymore.
The 7-year-old was retired officially Wednesday after tests at Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center showed that wear and tear on the gelding's ankles was enough to stop him from running again. Steve Kenly of STD Racing Stable, co-owner with Jason Wood, made the announcement.
Mora paid homage to the son of Slew City Slew this way: "We are so proud to say that he is the only horse to sweep the three classics in Southern California [Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic] in the same year . You have a special feeling for a horse like that."
In addition, Mora tipped his hat to the gelding for his three consecutive victories in the Gold Cup, 2005-07, to put his name next to Native Diver's as the only horses to complete that feat.
Exercise rider Tony Romero, who was Lava Man's full-time partner on the racetrack, said, "He was easy to work with. My job was to keep him sound while he trained. We'll miss him a lot."
Then with a big smile, he said, "Now it's Doug's job to find us another one like him."
O'Neill, himself, said from his Hollywood Park barn this morning, "Every time I think of what Lava Man did for all of us, it brings a smile to my face. He has been a champion in every sense of the word. He was so competitive and brought all of us so much pleasure."
While nothing has been settled yet as to where Lava Man might be placed, O'Neill said he believes he'll get about six months on a farm to chill out and then will come back to the barn to be retrained by Romero into becoming a stable pony.
"That would be our top scenario," O'Neill said, "and I think he would like that kind of life, being able to be around young horses. He has the kind of demeanor that would fit that life."
Lava Man finished his career with a record of 46-17-8-5 and earnings of $5,268,706.
KENTUCKY SHIPPER TAKES ON AMBITIOUS TASK IN HIRSCH 'CAP
Taking on Zenyatta is quite a task for any filly or mare these days, but West Coast Swing has traveled two-thirds of the way across the country to take her swing at the female most observers consider the best filly or mare in the country running on the main track.
So West Coast Swing will square off against the undefeated Zenyatta in Saturday's Grade II, $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. West Coast Swing, trained by Shannon Ritter, will be among the lightly weighted horses at 113 pounds against Zenyatta's 124.
"My filly has gotten right at home here," Ritter said of the daughter of Gone West, who arrived Tuesday from her Keeneland Race Course base. "I know this is a big step for her, but she ran in the Grade II Raven Run at Keeneland last year and she didn't embarrass herself. We thought we'd take a shot here to find out just what we have with her."
Here's how they'll line up from the rail, with weights and riders: Placid Lake, 113, Alonso Quinonez; Model, 112, Michael Baze; Romance Is Diane, 115, Rafael Bejarano, West Coast Swing, 113, Tyler Baze; Silver Z, 112, Joe Talamo; Tough Tiz's Sis, 119, Aaron Gryder; Silver Swallow, 113, David Flores; Zenyatta, 124, Mike Smith; Dawn After Dawn, 114, Victor Espinoza.
CASSIDY'S PASSIFIED MAY PASS OTHERS FOR LEAD IN MABEE 'CAP
Trainer Jim Cassidy has determined that Passified, his English-bred daughter of Compton Place, may be the lone speed and should be on the lead in Sunday's Grade I, $400,000 John C. Mabee Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course.
The trainer likes that idea because he believes the course has been playing to speed lately. His main concern is whether the race is too long for her, pointing out that she's never won beyond a mile.
"If she can get the distance, she could be tough in the race," Cassidy cautioned.
In her two tries at a mile and an eighth, Passified was fourth in the 2007 Grade II Honeymoon Handicap at Hollywood and sixth in that year's Del Mar Oaks. In her prep for the Oaks, Passified won the Grade II San Clemente here at a mile.
Figuring to be the solid favorite in the Mabee is Black Mamba from the red-hot John Sadler barn. The New Zealand-bred 5-year-old daughter of Black Minnaloushe has never been worse than third in nine races for Sadler since coming to the barn last summer. She won first time out for the trainer in an allowance race at Del Mar and then came back to finish second to the very fine Precious Kitten in Del Mar's Grade II Palomar Handicap.
Making her first stakes appearance for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is Ransom Captive, who was supplemented to the race for $4,000. She is on a two-race win streak on firm turf in allowance races at Hollywood Park. The 4-year-old daughter of Red Ransom was a stakes runner in England prior to coming to Hollendorfer.
The field will line up this way, with weights and riders: Black Mamba, 119, Garrett Gomez; Solva, 114, Aaron Gryder; Green Lyons, 113, David Flores; Ransom Captive, 113, Victor Espinoza; Foxysox, 117, Rafael Bejarano; Passified, 116, Mike Smith; Placid Lake, 113, Joel Rosario; I Can See, 113, Corey Nakatani.
6 CAL-BRED GRASS RUNNERS IN CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' HANDICAP
Bold Chieftain, winner of three of five races this year for trainer William E. Morey Jr., leads a field of six into Saturday's third running of the California Dreamin' Handicap for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/16 miles on the main track.
Bold Chieftain has been assigned high weight of 122 pounds, including Hall of Fame jockey and America's all-time leader in victories Russell Baze.
Baze's presence offers a bit of a side story as he will be riding against a second cousin of the broad-based Baze clan in racing, Michael Baze, who has the mount on Mr. Wolverine. Mr. Wolverine likely will get a lot of attention from the bettors as a result of his fine fourth-place finish in Hollywood Park's Grade I Charles Whittingham Handicap. Prior to that, the 6-year-old son of Last Lion captured Hollywood's Khaled Stakes
A third Baze-family rider, Tyler, doesn't have a mount in the race, thus eliminating the chance for a 1-2-3 Baze finish.
Here's how the field will line up from the rail, with weights and riders: Mr. Wolverine, 120, Michael Baze; Comoros, 115, Mike Smith; Tiz Afire, 115, Rafael Bejarano; Cheroot, 117, Martin Pedroza; Bold Chieftain; Epic Power, 120, Martin Garcia.
BEJARANO EXPRESS SLOWS DOWN AND FIELD GAINS ON HIM
With only one victory over the past three racing days to his credit, leading rider Rafael Bejarano is beginning to feel the heat from the riders moving closer to him in the standings.
A riding triple Wednesday for Joel Rosario ran his total to 11 and put him solidly in a challenging position to runner-up Tyler Baze's 12 wins and the leader's 15.
A little farther back but catching fire recently is 2007 national champion rider Garrett Gomez, who now is alone in fourth place with seven wins, thanks to three wins Monday and one Wednesday.
The trainer's race has become a ding-dong affair between high-percentage conditioners Mike Mitchell and John Sadler. Mitchell has eight wins in 30 starts for a 27 percent strike rate, and Sadler has seven wins in 33 starts, putting him at 21 percent. Sadler also has had 12 seconds and one third to give him 20 in-the-money finishes from the 33 starts.
Sadler had two wins Wednesday, including Zappa's victory in the "Win and You're In" Cougar II Handicap. Sadler said Zappa, who now could be a prospect for the Pacific Classic, was in good shape this morning and the trainer is looking forward to a run in the Breeders' Cup Marathon, where his win in the Cougar gives him an automatic berth. The Marathon will be run Saturday, October 25 at Oak Tree at Santa Anita.
SHORE LINES -- The seventh annual golf tournament to benefit the California Equine Retirement Foundation, hosted by jockey Alex Solis, will be held Tuesday, August 5 at the Del Mar Country Club. After the golf outing will be awards, cocktails and a dinner buffet, followed by a live auction with Trevor Denman and Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg ... Del Mar's annual chili cook-off will hold sway in the Infield Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. Free samples will be available and fans can vote on their favorites in the people's choice category ... A surf board beach towel will be given to each paid or pre-paid admission Saturday, as long as the supply lasts ... Another weekend of Daybreak at Del Mar is in store for fans from 7:30 to 9:30 Saturday and Sunday. It's a chance for fans to enjoy breakfast and watch horses in morning workouts ... Prospective Thoroughbred owners are invited to a free seminar Saturday morning at 8:30 in the Veranda Café in the Del Mar Clubhouse. Thoroughbred Owners of California will present the seminar.
TRAKUS FACTS -- Wed., 7/30 -- Peak Speed: Race 1 (Polytrack) -- Storm Seige -- 44.2 mph (first 3/16ths); Race 6 (turf) -- Carona Time -- 41.1 mph (first 3/16ths); Fastest Late Stretch Run: Race 5 (Polytrack) -- Partywithlarryz -- 37.6 mph (final 16th); Race 6 (turf) -- Earnednevergiven -- 37 mph (final 16th).
DEL MAR COMBINED JOCKEY & TRAINER STATISTICS
(Current Through Wednesday, July 30, 2008)
Jockey Mts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% Money Won
Rafael Bejarano -- 63 -- 15 -- 14 -- 14 -- 24% -- $936,263
Tyler Baze -- -- 70 -- 12 -- 7 -- 13 -- 17% -- $559,152
Joel Rosario -- -- 65 -- 11 -- 4 -- 12 -- 17% -- $422,000
Garrett Gomez -- 46 -- 7 -- 8 -- 5 -- 15% -- $518,100
Victor Espinoza -- 58 -- 6 -- 8 -- 8 -- 10% -- $443,652
Alex Solis -- 40 -- 5 -- 11 -- 4 -- 13% -- $290,000
Alonso Quinonez -- 33 -- 5 -- 2 -- 4 -- 15% -- $150,660
Aaron Gryder -- 30 -- 5 -- 1 -- 1 -- 17% -- $359,359
David Flores -- 42 -- 4 -- 7 -- 8 -- 10% -- $535,546
Michael Martinez -- 25 -- 4 -- 4 -- 2 -- 16% -- $90,500
Trainer -- Sts -- 1st -- 2nd -- 3rd -- Win% -- Money Won
Mike R. Mitchell -- 30 -- 8 -- 3 -- 4 -- 27% -- $564,430
John W. Sadler -- 33 -- 7 -- 12 -- 1 -- 21% -- $503,454
Doug F. O'Neill -- 34 -- 6 -- 9 -- 4 -- 18% -- $275,129
Jerry Hollendorfer -- 21 -- 5 -- 1 -- 8 -- 24% -- $226,176
Peter Miller -- 14 -- 4 -- 2 -- 1 -- 29% -- $123,100
Clifford W. Sise, Jr. -- 7 -- 4 -- 1 -- 1 -- 57% -- $98,240
Eoin G. Harty -- 8 -- 4 -- 0 -- 0 -- 50% -- $280,840
Carla Gaines -- 10 -- 3 -- 2 -- 2 -- 30% -- $147,000
Gary Stute -- 10 -- 3 -- 2 -- 1 -- 30% -- $55,220
Ronald L. McAnally -- 20 -- 3 -- 1 -- 1 -- 15% -- $128,523
Winning Favorites Report
(Current Through Wednesday, July 30, 2008)
Winning favorites -- 22 out of 111 -- 19.82%
Winning odds-on favorites -- 4 out of 10 -- 40.00%
In-the-Money favorites -- 73 out of 111 -- 65.77%
In-the-Money odds-on favorites -- 9 out of 10 -- 90.00%