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Sep 15, 2006

Handicap division a two-horse race

By: SPORTS NETWORK


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Last Saturday's running of the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga was to have been a redemption of four-year-old Flower Alley. A win in the race would have put him back in the picture for Horse of the Year for 2006.

Flower Alley threw in his second straight clunker, however, finishing off the board. Four weeks earlier he finished a disappointing seventh in the Whitney Handicap.

Now the older horses have just two, Lava Man and Invasor, remaining on the road to the honors stand. Lava Man was voted horse of the meet at the recently concluded Del Mar season. Invasor held off Sun King in his only start at Saratoga.

Lava Man and Invasor are now by themselves atop the handicap division. The two are putting up great numbers for the year. Lava Man has already earned more than $2.4 million and Invasor is past the $1 million mark.

Lava Man's rider Corey Nakatani believes this may be the best he has ever ridden.

"What a horse. He's just about unbelievable," said Nakatani. "He's surely as good as any good horse I've ever ridden. He may even be better. He's something."

Invasor has won his last three starts, but unlike Lava Man, none have been worth a $1 million. Invasor is easily the top older thoroughbred outside of California since Lava Man is the king of the Golden State.

The two horses will be taking different routes to the Breeders' Cup Classic. Invasor, under trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, will next start in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in early October at Belmont Park. Lava Man, trained by Doug O'Neill, is expected to make his next start on the grass in the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship at Santa Anita the end of September.

Lava Man has already picked up two turf wins this year along with victories in three million-dollar races.

McLaughlin, of course, is having an unbelievable year. He won the Belmont Stakes with Jazil for Shadwell Stable and is giving the same owner more thrills with Invasor.

"He's the real deal," said McLaughlin about Invasor. "I don't know how I got him beat, but maybe I should say we don't want to see Discreet Cat anywhere. Right now, we're not going to duck anybody, so we have to pick our spots. The nice thing is that he wants to run all day."

Horse of the Year is still up for grabs, not only with Lava Man and Invasor involved, but also Bernardini rolling along. A great three-year-old class of 2006 is being joined by some exceptional older horses.



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