Lava Man working for comeback

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Lava Man's retirement from racing lasted all of one year.

The 8-year-old gelding, who dominated the California handicap division during most of two years, earning $5.2 million and winning seven Grades 1's, worked three furlongs Wednesday morning at Hollywood Park and will aim for a racing comeback.

Owners Steve Kenly and Jason Wood, and trainer Doug O'Neill, confirmed tentative comeback plans for Lava Man after the snappy three-furlong work in 36 seconds, fastest of 24 works at the distance.

Lava Man, who retired last fall due to declining form, returned to the track two weeks ago in improved physical condition following months of stem-cell therapy administered by Dr. Doug Herthel of Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center.

In stem-cell therapy, cells that can promote healing and help regenerate healthy tissue are extracted from a horse's bone marrow or fat and then injected into an injury site.

The monthly procedure allowed Lava Man to regenerate cartilage in his ankle, and he began light exercise this spring and summer at Magali Farms in Santa Ynez. His condition improved and he wanted to do more.

"Training was part of the study, which we agreed to," O'Neill said. "He's been in training for three or months, and they have been raving about him."

Lava Man was scheduled for retirement at Old Friends in Kentucky, an event delayed once in spring and now indefinitely postponed pending resumption of a racing career by one of the most popular geldings to race in California.

"He was telling us, don't send me to Kentucky," Kenly said. "This horse wants to train, probably more so than most horses."

Lava Man was claimed Aug. 13, 2004, for only $50,000 by Wood and STD Racing Stable (Steve, Tracy, and Dave Kenly). He improved for his new trainer, O'Neill, and went on to sweep the 2006 Grade 1 handicap races in California - the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

A three-time winner of the Gold Cup and 17 for 46 lifetime, Lava Man last raced July 20, 2008, at Del Mar. Nagging ankles and declining form forced Lava Man into retirement in fall 2008.

Lava Man returned to Hollywood Park on Sept. 11 and continued to progress.

"We have his best interests in mind," Kenly said, "and if he tells us anytime he doesn't want to do this, that's it."

O'Neill said if Lava Man makes it back, all his trainer purse earnings would be donated to the racehorse retirement foundation CARMA.

Both Kenly and O'Neill emphasized that Lava Man will return at top class, or not return at all.

"Either he competes at the highest level, or nothing," Kenly said.