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The highlight of the Santa Anita winter meeting is the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap (G1). A decent crowd of 43,024 was on hand for the three graded stakes on the afternoon contested under ideal racing conditions: sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70's. The team of trainer Doug O'Neill and jockey Corey Nakatani took 2 of the 3 graded events.
Winning jockey Corey Nakatani said, "He is just a tremendous animal. I think he will move forward off of this race because he did get a little tired at the end and the weight (124 pound highweight) didn't do him any good. Today I waited and didn't make that standard run of his because the track has been so heavy all day. I felt the other horse (Molengao) coming, but Lava Man turned in a gutsy effort. This horse will just do whatever you need him to do." Trainer Doug O'Neill added, "They were crawling early, but Corey knows this horse so well, he was so confident in him, and the big guy fired. He's run his last 9 or 10 races the same way: he makes his move and kicks clear. I didn't expect those slow fractions and him being where he was, I can tell you that much."
Winning jockey Corey Nakatani said, "He came back full of run. Doug thought he would run to about 80 percent of his capacity today, so he should move forward off of this race. He just ran a tremendous race. The plan today was to kick clear and gallop out strong. He did just that. Stormello, who we've beaten twice, ran a huge one in the East today, so we're looking forward to a good first Saturday in May." Trainer Doug O'Neill added, "Corey rode him beautifully. We just wanted a good performance and something to build on, and he ran better than we expected. Paul (owner Reddam) is a huge advocate of synthetic tracks, so we might take him to Keeneland for the Blue Grass. I'm very happy with where he is at this time. He lost ground most of the way, which is good and bad. He didn't have any traffic troubles, but he went farther than he had to. I'm just so excited, not having been in this position ever."
Winning jockey Richard Migliore said, "They went a little slower than I thought they would early, but my horse relaxed well and I was happy with my position. I thought Corey (Nakatani, aboard Silent Name) did a great job getting his horse to settle as well as he did, but I still thought I was going to be able to get by him fairly easily. As you saw though, his horse really fought back and when we got by him, I knew there was somebody else coming on the outside. My horse was really game to hold the lead like he did." Michelle Nevin, assistant to winning trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said, "The horse trained beautifully up to the race and Richard gave him a great ride. It looks like his favorite trip is a mile. I was very happy with him."
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