Lava Man won grade I races on dirt, turf and synthetic surfaces and joined Native Diver as the only three-time winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup. In all, he won seven grade I races.
Steve Kenly of STD Racing Stable, co-owner of Lava Man, said the decision was made following initial examinations of the horse at Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos, Calif., east of Santa Barbara.
Kenly said he was told by the center's staff that X-rays taken of the gelding's front ankles were significantly different from those taken earlier this year.
"When we heard about the results of the X-rays, the decision was easy," the soft-spoken Kenly said, adding, "It was time to call it a day. We sent him up there to make sure he was OK and if not, we knew we'd retire him."
Lava Man retires with 17 wins in 46 starts for total earnings of $5, 268,706. That puts him third among California-breds, behind only Tiznow, the nation's Horse of the Year in 2000, and Best Pal.
A 7-year-old California-bred son of Slew City Slew—Li’l Ms. Leonard, by Nostalgia’s Star, Lava Man is the most lucrative claim in racing history. Jason Wood and the STD Racing Stable of Steve, Dave, and Tracy Kenly claimed Lava Man for $50,000 at Del Mar in 2004. Since then, Lava Man has earned $5,180,678, a record amount for a horse to win after being claimed.
“I think we realized pretty quickly into it how we were with a special horse,” said Doug O’Neill, who has conditioned Lava Man for the Kenlys and Wood.
Lava Man was retired following a last-place finish in the July 20 Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT). He had not won a race since capturing the 2007 Hollywood Gold Cup, when he became only the second horse to win the Gold Cup three times, following Native Diver. While O’Neill points to all three of those victories as high points, it was Lava Man’s first Gold Cup in 2005 that the trainer recalls most vividly.
“That was a pretty amazing race,” said O’Neill. “Only two starts prior I ran him in a $100,000 claiming race.”
Following that claiming race, Lava Man won the Californian (gr. II) and then turned in an 8 3/4-length triumph in the Gold Cup, solidifying his position as one of the top older horses on the West Coast. However, Lava Man’s third in the 2005 Pacific Classic impressed O’Neill more than some of the victories.
To read an exclusive Q&A with Lava Man trainer Doug O'Neill, check out Jason Shandler's latest Breeders' Cup Chat blog entryLava Man looked like a winner until near the wire, but Borrego and Perfect Drift passed him. Jockey Patrick Valenzuela pulled up Lava Man following the race, and the horse had to be vanned off the track.
“He just laid his body down -- what a huge race,” O’Neill said. “And then to see the rider jump off. He was just rubber-legged, like a boxer, just no legs. He was okay. We got him back to the barn, got him drinking, got a hose on him right away, and he finally came to. But you don’t see many horses run that hard to where they’re rubber-legged. They usually stop miles before that happens.”
The following year, 2006, Lava Man won seven straight stakes in California under jockey Corey Nakatani, including the Big 'Cap, a second Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic. He finished seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), but returned in 2007 to capture the Sunshine Millions Turf, a second Santa Anita Handicap, and his third Gold Cup.
When Lava Man was unable to win in three subsequent starts that summer and fall, O’Neill and the owners sent him to NexStar Ranch in Temecula, Calif., for a break. The gelding rejoined O’Neill’s barn in late January of 2008.
Lava Man returned to the races with a third in the April 27 Khaled Stakes at Hollywood Park. He followed that with another third in the June 7 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT) prior to the Eddie Read.
Trainer Lonnie Arterburn, veterinarian Kim Kuhlmann, and Dr. Kuhlmann’s wife, Eve, bred Lava Man. Arterburn had claimed the dam, Li’l Ms. Leonard, for $16,000 at Bay Meadows in 1997 and won several races with her before partnering with the Kuhlmanns to breed her.
Lava Man was foaled March 20, 2001, at Carol Lingenfelter’s Poplar Meadows Farm in Sanger, Calif. Lingenfelter remembers him as a big colt who covered a lot of ground.
Eve Kuhlmann competes in triathlons, and she named Lava Man after a Hawaiian triathlon race in which she has competed several times. Lava Man won three of nine starts under Arterburn’s tutelage while racing for his breeders and partners. He finished second in the $50,000 claiming race at Del Mar in which the Kenlys and Wood claimed him.