When trainer Doug O’Neill’s charges head to the racetrack during training hours at Hollywood Park, a familiar dark bay gelding often accompanies them. Lava Man, who won three Hollywood Gold Cups (gr. I) during a long racing career in which he earned $5,268,706, has settled into his new job as a stable pony.
"Sabas Rivera, one of my foremen, spent probably two or three hours a day with him," said O’Neill. "He’s got Lava Man chaperoning horses to the track. The horse is very mellow, especially around the barn."
Rivera taught Lava Man to carry a Western saddle instead of a regular exercise saddle. O’Neill said that they also now use a hackamore instead of a bit and bridle.
"A horse like him, in Sabas’ mind, you put a bit in his mouth, he feels the pressure in the back of his mouth and he wants to go," said O’Neill. "This way it’s all pressure under his mouth."
O’Neill said that Lava Man is enjoying the new experiences. The gelding has always loved the activity at the barn, which was one of the reasons owners Jason Wood and Steve, Dave, and Tracy Kenly brought him out of retirement last year following stem cell treatment. Lava Man finished last in the San Gabriel Handicap (gr. IIT) Dec. 27, 2009, and he was retired again.
Lava Man set a record for earnings after being claimed. Wood and the Kenlys claimed Lava Man for $50,000 at Del Mar in 2004, and the gelding subsequently earned $5,180,678. Now 9, the California-bred son of Slew City Slew—Li’l Ms. Leonard, by Nostalgia's Star, won 13 stakes and is the only horse to win the Gold Cup, Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), and Pacific Classic (gr. I) in one year.
O’Neill said that Lava Man will lead the post parade for this year’s Gold Cup on July 10. Lava Man won the race in 2005, 2006, and 2007.