by Jon White
Lava Man is back at the Doug O’Neill barn at Hollywood Park to prepare for a 2008 campaign.
“He returned to Hollywood Park from NexStar Ranch on the afternoon of Jan. 26,” O’Neill said. “He looks very good. He’s fresh and happy. It’s wonderful to have the horse of a lifetime back at the barn.”
Lava Man was taken out of training after finishing sixth in the California Cup Classic Handicap Nov. 3 during the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet. The 7-year-old California-bred gelded son of Slew City Slew—Li’l Miss Leonard, by Nostalgia’s Star, was sent to NexStar in Temecula, Calif., after being examined at the Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Santa Barbara, Calif.
“They didn’t really find anything wrong with him other than some wear and tear,” O’Neill said.
Before rejoining O’Neill at Hollywood Park, Lava Man again was checked out at Alamo Pintado.
“He passed all the tests at Alamo Pintado last week with flying colors,” O’Neill said. “The time off has been great regarding his left front foot. That foot, which was something we’d had to deal with ever since he injured it (in the 2005 Japan Cup Dirt), looks terrific.
“Right now, Lava Man is tack walking at the barn. In a couple of weeks, he’ll go to the track and start jogging.”
O’Neill is looking for Lava Man to return to the races at the Hollywood Park spring/summer meet, with the main goal a fourth consecutive victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I).
“One possibility before the Gold Cup is the (Charles) Whittingham (Memorial Handicap) on the turf,” the trainer said. “I love running a horse on the turf in their first start back after a layoff.”
Last year, Lava Man became the second horse in history to win the Hollywood Gold Cup three times. The only other horse to accomplish the feat was Native Diver in the 1960s.
In 2006, Lava Man became the first horse to sweep Southern California’s three major grade I events for older horses—the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic—in the same year.
Lava Man boasts career earnings of $5,214,706. His current owners, STD Racing Stable and Jason Wood, claimed him for $50,000 at Del Mar in 2004.
Lava Man’s groom, Noe Garcia, also returned to work at O’Neill’s Hollywood Park barn Jan. 26, the trainer said.
Garcia lost his left arm as the result of being involved in a serious automobile accident July 23. While on his way to work early in the morning, Garcia’s vehicle was hit by a drunken driver on Interstate 5 near Del Mar. Heriberto Castillo was sentenced Oct. 4 to five years in state prison for causing great bodily injury to Garcia.
“It was so great to have Lava Man and Noe return the same day,” O’Neill said. “Noe had spent about a month with his family in Guatemala during the holiday season.”