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Mar 02, 2007

Lava Man back to defend Santa Anita Handicap


Arcadia, CA (Sports Network) - Former claimer Lava Man is back to defend his title in Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap. Lava Man will take on eight rivals in the 1 1/4 mile race.

Bred in California, Lava Man has proven unbeatable in the Golden State. All of his seven victories in 2006 came in his home state and he began this year with a win in the Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita.

Lava Man is owned by STD Racing and Jason Wood, and trained by Doug O'Neill. The six-year-old gelding will have his regular jockey Corey Nakatani in the saddle and start from post 7. Lava Man has been assigned high weight of 124 pounds.

"I think it's fair," O’Neill said about the weight assignment. "He's definitely the deserving high weight. Now he needs to run like it."

Last year he earned $2.77 million and has career winnings of more than $4 million. Lava Man has won 15 of 36 lifetime starts.

McCann's Mojave, the winner of this year's Sunshine Millions Classic, faces Lava Man for the first time since last year's Sunshine Millions. The seven- year-old will break from the far outside post with Frank Alvarado riding.

Santa Anita publicity director Mike Willman owns McCann's Mojave with Steve Specht training. The horse has a career mark of 10 wins in 24 starts for better than $1.1 million.

"You can't take anything away from Lava Man," commented Specht about the favorite. "He’s a good horse, but he’s no special horse, in my opinion. He's not a horse like Secretariat or Spectacular Bid, horses that were so monstrous. He’s not in that league. He's beaten some of the same horses that we've beaten."

The first two finishers from the Strub Stakes are entered in the Big Cap.

Arson Squad with jockey Garrett Gomez will start between Lava Man and McCann's Mojave. Spring At Last will break from post 5 with David Flores in the saddle.

Completing the field for the Big Cap in post position order are Awesome Gem, El Roblar, Boboman, Ball Four and Molengao,

Former Santa Anita Derby winner Brother Derek will miss the Santa Anita Handicap due to a chip in his left ankle. Brother Derek was third in the Strub Stakes.

"It's a recurring problem that probably will require four months (off)," said trainer Dan Hendricks. "It's very minor, but the best thing for the horse is to go at it now, let him recuperate and come back strong as ever."

The Santa Anita Handicap is scheduled as race 10 with a post-time of 7:30 p.m. (et).

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