Lava Man gunning for top-level triple
DEL MAR, Calif. -- Lava Man will attempt to become the first horse to sweep the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic in the same year when he competes in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic on Sunday at Del Mar, but there are plenty of horses ready to challenge him, including last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Giacomo, who looked sensational in a six-furlong workout here Monday morning.
With exercise rider Steve Willard aboard, Giacomo was merely cruising as he traveled six furlongs in 1:12.20. Giacomo broke off about five lengths behind workmate Bullistic, then roared past that horse at the top of the stretch and went powerfully to the wire.
"Every week, he's just felt a little bit better," Willard said. Then, referring to the trainer of Lava Man, Willard added, "Doug O'Neill better have his running shoes on. I'm not saying we're going to beat him, but he better have his running shoes on."
John Shirreffs, the trainer of Giacomo, put on his best poker face after the work. "It was just a work, right? The show's in the afternoon," he said. But asked if he was happy with the work, Shirreffs perked up with an emphatic, "Yes."
"The San Diego," which Giacomo won on July 22, "really moved him forward quite a bit," Shirreffs said. "He really needed that race."
The Pacific Classic, at 1 1/4 miles, is the same distance as the Kentucky Derby, Santa Anita Handicap, and Hollywood Gold Cup. It headlines a card that also includes the Pat O'Brien Handicap, a seven-furlong sprint that will bring out Declan's Moon and Siren Lure.
Lava Man is the likely favorite for the Pacific Classic. He finished third in the race last year, behind Borrego and Perfect Drift. On Sunday at Del Mar, Lava Man completed his serious work with a six-furlong breeze in 1:14 with exercise rider Tony Romero.
"I just loved the steadiness of it and the fact it was done with ease," O'Neill said.
Perfect Drift was scheduled to arrive at Del Mar on Monday afternoon after a flight from Kentucky. This will be his third consecutive appearance in the Pacific Classic. Perfect Drift worked a half-mile in 49.80 seconds at the Churchill Downs training center on Saturday.
"He couldn't be better," his trainer, Murray Johnson, said after arriving Monday morning at San Diego International Airport. "He came out of his last race well, and he's continued to thrive."
Good Reward, who will be trainer Shug McGaughey's first runner at Del Mar, worked five furlongs on Monday at the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga in 1:01.43, the fastest of 10 works at the distance. He will ship here on Thursday, McGaughey said.
At Del Mar, Preachinatthebar worked flew six furlongs in 1:11, the best time of 19 at the distance, and Top This and That went a half-mile in 48 seconds.
On Sunday at Del Mar, Super Frolic worked six furlongs in 1:12.40.
Others expected for the Pacific Classic are Magnum, Papi Chullo, and possibly That's an Outrage.
- additional reporting by Steve Andersen