Lava Man has ’em talking

first_img [email protected] (818) 713-3616 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! ARCADIA – Santa Anita management is stoking comparisons by holding a John Henry Day ceremony and video retrospective on the afternoon Lava Man tries to match the steel-drivin’ horse’s Big ‘Cap repeat. John Henry hasn’t raced in almost a quarter-century but might be Lava Man’s only real competition today. Lava Man goes into today’s $1 million Santa Anita Handicap as a 4-5 morning-line favorite. “I’m not saying he’s not a good horse,” McAnally said of Lava Man on Friday, his tone the same as when he was first asked about the comparisons last summer. “Being a gelding, like John was, he has time to prove it. (But) you have to carry weight, and you have to (win) all over the country. “If he (Lava Man) continues doing what he’s been doing, I could see myself saying he’s as good as John Henry. That’s not impossible, even if he doesn’t have to carry the weight they used to. I admire his ability tremendously, the way he moves on other horses. He’s a pro.” John Henry and Lava Man are linked as geldings, reformed claimers, Grade I winners on dirt and turf, and – if Lava Man comes through in today’s 10th race – winners of back-to-back Santa Anita Handicaps. John Henry did it in 1981-82. (Milwaukee Brew did it in 2002-03.) But John Henry, who raced to age 9, presents Lava Man with some distant targets: John Henry won two Horse of the Year awards, $6.5 million in purses (to $4,079,706 for Lava Man), and 16 Grade I wins (to five). As well as the differences McAnally mentioned: John Henry won two Arlington Millions and a Jockey Club Gold Cup, while Lava Man is 0 for 4 outside California. And John Henry won under 130 pounds, while Lava Man has never carried more than 126. Lava Man (Corey Nakatani riding) carries 124 today, seven to 10 more than his eight opponents, going 1 1/4 miles. If the two-time Cal-Bred of the Year is at his best, an upset would require big improvement by 4-year-old Arson Squad, Spring at Last, or Awesome Gem; Ball Four to steal a soft lead; Molengao to get a sizzling pace; Boboman to be better than he was on turf, or McCann’s Mojave to bottle a second lightning bolt. El Roblar is the 20-1 long shot. center_img Track executives hope for a crowd of more than 50,000 for a noon card that includes Kentucky Derby contender Great Hunter’s 3-year-old debut in the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Lava Man scored an unprecedented sweep of the state’s three heavyweight stakes in 2006, the gelding has won eight races in a row locally, and he shows no sign of slowing down at age 6. But he has a long way to go to be another John Henry, figuratively and geographically. So says John Henry trainer Ron McAnally, who might be biased but is right to say, “Whoa.” last_img

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