Lava Man: From Fairy Tale to Pony Tale

As long as Doug O’Neill keeps sending horses on the Derby trail, the legend of Lava Man will continue to grow, as will America’s affection for the country’s most famous stable pony. ~ Steve Haskin

Lava Man: From Fairy Tale to Pony Tale

By Steve Haskin


How can a stable pony steal the thunder from two Kentucky Derby winners and a Secretariat Vox Populi Award winner? Very easily if his name is Lava Man.

When fans visited trainer Doug O’Neill’s barn at Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont Park in 2012 it was to see Lava Man as much as it was I’ll Have Another, who looked like a cinch to capture the Triple Crown before he suffered an injury the day before the Belmont Stakes. Throughout that year’s Triple Crown, photographers took as many photos of Lava Man as they did I’ll Have Another as he was accompanied to the track by his illustrious lead pony.

That scene was repeated in 2016 when Lava Man shared in another Kentucky Derby victory, this time with champion 2-year-old Nyquist.

Five years later, in 2021, Lava Man showed that his popularity had not diminished in the slightest, and perhaps was even stronger, as he became the traveling companion for Hot Rod Charlie as he journeyed across the country five times, making stops in New Orleans, Louisville, New York City, Oceanport, and Philadelphia. When Charlie was voted the Secretariat Vox Populi Award winner as America’s most popular horse, some of the voters admitted they looked at him as an extension of Lava Man, who at the age of 20 still was the most beloved horse in the country. Some even suggested a special Vox Populi Award be given to Lava Man.

It was not only Lava Man’s sensational career as a racehorse that made him so popular it was his endearing personality. The first time I saw him in his new career was when he stepped off the van with I’ll Have Another at Churchill Downs. It didn’t take long for the flocks of fans to converge on O’Neill’s barn to see his superstar turned pony. One morning I was at the barn, and there was Lava Man walking by himself unattended in the shedrow as if just casually taking a stroll. He stopped by the large feed bin, reached down and opened it with the tip of his nose, grabbed a quick bite to eat and continued on his way. It was obvious to an Easterner who had not been around Lava Man that this was no ordinary horse.

We are all aware that Lava Man was an institution in Southern California, having raced until he was 8, winning seven Grade 1 stakes and earning over $5.2 million. But his was the true rags to riches story or Cinderella fairy tale or whatever name you want to give it.

So let’s go back nearly 20 years to where it all began.

June 19, 2003 was a warm, humid day in Stockton, California, with a brisk 20 mile-an-hour-wind. Those that attended the races at the San Joaquin Fair were there just for fun and certainly were not looking for any future stakes horses, never mind superstars. The fourth race on the card, a $12,500 maiden claiming race for 2-year-olds, had no particular meaning, and you can bet no one paid any attention whatsoever to the fourth-place finisher – a 35-1 shot named Lava Man, who was racing for his owner, breeder, and trainer Lonnie Arterburn, along with several partners.

Following three more defeats, at Santa Rosa Fair and Bay Meadows, Lava Man finally broke his maiden by four lengths on the turf at Golden Gate under jockey Francisco Duran. Even then, the gelded son of Slew City Slew had character and charisma, and made people notice him.

“I felt he was a special horse in his own way,” Duran said years later. “He was an incredible horse to ride, and he had a special demeanor about him. He also had a wonderful attitude toward everything he did. We all thought he was a good horse, but obviously we had no idea how far up the ladder he was going to climb. I don’t know how to explain how he got this good, but he’s evolved into an amazing horse.”

Lava Man followed up his maiden win with a starter allowance victory, but lost his next four starts before winning an allowance race on the grass at Bay Meadows by a nose. Arterburn had removed his blinkers for the race, and Lava Man showed tremendous courage to win after a stretch-long duel.

On July 28, 2004, Lava Man was entered in a $62,500 claiming race on the grass at Del Mar. One person who had his eye on the horse was Steve Kenly, who wanted to claim him for his STD partnership (with his father Dave and sister Tracy) and Jason Wood, but was talked out of it by his trainer Doug O’Neill.

“On the form and on the Sheets, I just felt $62,500 was too much money,” O’Neill said.

Kenly, who had been looking specifically for 3-year-old Cal-breds, because of the state’s lucrative program, had his eye on several horses and Lava Man was one of them.

“Doug said there were more negatives than positives, and I told him, ‘Well, let’s watch him,’ Kenly recalled. “He was coming from Bay Meadows, and for whatever reason, I decided to wait. I watched the race with interest anyway and took notes.”

Lava Man finished sixth in the race, but had a ton of trouble, getting squeezed and trapped between horses. Kenly remembered that and stored it in the back of his head in case the horse showed up again for a price.

Meanwhile, Arterburn hadn’t realized what kind of a bullet he had dodged. Would he tempt fate again?

The answer, sadly for him, was yes. On August 13, Lava Man was back at Del Mar, this time for a $50,000 tag.

“I never should have run him back down there,” Arterburn said. “You go down to that claiming pit at Del Mar and you’re asking for trouble. They claim crazy down there, and I never should have taken him there. I really liked the horse. He had a great personality; almost a clown. He was like a big kid, always wanting attention. He was a one of a kind character, and we tried to protect him the best we could.”

Arterburn had a soft spot in his heart for Lava Man, having claimed his dam, Li’l Ms. Leonard for $16,000 at Bay Meadows and winning several races with her. He then partnered up with his friend, veterinarian Kim Kuhlman and wife Eve, breeding Li’l Ms. Leonard to Slew City Slew and getting Lava Man, who was foaled on March 20, 2001 at Carol Lingenfelter’s Poplar Meadows Farm in Sanger, California.

Kuhlmannwas friends with trainer Mike Puype, so instead of shipping Lava Man back to Northern California following their narrow escape at Del Mar, they decided to leave him with Puype at Hollywood Park and let him train down there for a couple of weeks. When a $50,000 claiming race showed up in the book, Puype told Arterburn about it. Arterburn had Puype enter the horse and saddle him in his absence. It was a decision he has regretted every day since.

“He had gotten beat for $62,500 and was 9-1 in that race,” Arterburn said. “The bettors there didn’t give him any respect, and I thought the trainers wouldn’t give him any respect either.”

He was right about the trainers, but didn’t count on an owner.

“I actually was seriously thinking about scratching him right before the race, because I started to feel afraid that we might lose the horse,” Arterburn said. “For some reason, I didn’t, and now I’m sick as a dog that I didn’t go by my gut and scratch him. We paid the price.”

Kenly, meanwhile, had been on the lookout for Lava Man, and was delighted to see him show up for $50,000. This time, there was no stopping him. When he saw him entered, he called O’Neill and told him, “Well, you just saved us $12,500.” As it turned out, Kenly’s was the only claim.

But O’Neill and his brother Dennis still were less than enamored with the horse. “Doug actually was even more negative than he was the first time,” Kenly recalled. “His running line was bad, and Doug thought he might be unsound. But he had a horrible run last out, and it was a typical Del Mar turf race where horses get steadied and never get out. He was trapped in there the entire race.”

“The beauty of Steve is that when he gets locked in on a horse he goes after it,” O’Neill said. “He had seen all the trouble he had gotten into in his previous race. So, we felt as long as the horse looked good in the paddock we were going to claim him. Lonnie had him looking great, and we put in the claim. I definitely feel bad for him, because I’ve lost a few Grade I horses myself and it does get to you. This can be a brutal game at times. There are a lot more disappointments and heartaches than there are high-fives.”

It was decided to point Lava Man for the Pomona Derby at Fairplex. They ran him in the Derby Trial and he won by 6 1/4 lengths in his first start for his new connections. He then finished a well-beaten third in the Pomona Derby and proceeded to lose his next six races. But he did finish second in the California Cup Classic and On Trust Handicap for Cal-breds before finishing a game second to Rock Hard Ten in the Grade I Malibu Stakes. It was just a matter of time before he put it all together.

But just when it looked as if his career was about take off, he lost his form that winter, turning in three poor performances in state-bred stakes, including the Sunshine Millions at Gulfstream in his first trip outside California. It was time for some re-evaluation.

It was now O’Neill’s and Kenly’s turn to flirt with destiny. Arterburn, still upset over losing the horse, waited patiently, hoping to see Lava Man back in for a price. He was determined to get the horse back. It took a year, but there he was, on May 14, 2005, entered for a $100,000 claiming price.

Unfortunately for Arterburn, he was in the process of moving to Florida in an attempt to upgrade his stock and was unable to come up with the money. It was that move that had precipitated his putting Lava Man in for $50,000. And now it was that same move that prevented him from getting him back.

“I was in the middle of real estate deals trying to get a farm bought,” Arterburn said. “I couldn’t find any partners who were interested in claiming him for that price, and I couldn’t afford to claim him back myself. It was bad timing for me and good timing for them. It was ironic, in a bad way, that we let him slip through our fingers because at the time we were in the pursuit of getting better horses some day.

“After that, it all went rosy for them. When he started running so good, I said to myself, ‘That’s it, I’ll never see him again. Game over.”

As Lava Man developed into a Grade I winner and then a legend, becoming the first horse to sweep the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic in the same year and emulating Native Diver’s feat of winning three consecutive runnings of the Hollywood Gold Cup, Arterburn became more distressed over his misfortune.

“It’s almost killed me,” he said as Lava Man turned 7. “It’s not even the money, because I’ve earned breeders awards every time the horse runs. I would give all the money back if I could do everything over. It just tears me up, but what can I do? You hope for a horse like that to come along some day, and there’s no way I’ll ever get something like that again. I’ve always been a claiming trainer and this has made me hate claiming. All I can do is keep trying, but it’s hard to swallow. That’s why I’ll be glad the day Lava Man retires, because it still hurts.”

Kenly had lucked out getting Lava Man, as all the forces seemed to be working in his favor. So, why in the world did he and O’Neill decide to tempt fate and put a Grade I-placed horse in a claiming race, albeit for $100,000?

“Doug is a gambler and a pretty aggressive trainer when it comes to claiming races, and the horse had two bad outs and he thought he could get away with it,” Kenly said. “I was against it and just kind of went along with him. I remember telling him, ‘We can’t replace this horse for $100,000; no chance in hell.’ I stayed in Phoenix and watched the horse win in fast time with blinkers on, and was nervous as hell until I got a hold of Doug. I said, ‘Please tell me we didn’t lose him,’ and he said, ‘That (expletive) Hollendorfer.’ When he said that my stomach just fell out; I turned from a nice tan to white. Then he told me he was kidding. I said I’d get him back if it’s the last thing I do. He really got me with Hollendorfer, because he’s the kind of guy who would claim a horse like this. He’s famous for coming down from Northern California and taking high-priced claimers.”

So began the ride of a lifetime for all of Lava Man’s connections, who saw him become the first horse to win Grade 1 stakes on dirt, grass, and synthetic, and in addition to winning the historic Hollywood Gold Cup three times, becoming one of only three horses to win back-to-back runnings of the Santa Anita Handicap. He also took them to Japan and Dubai.

Lava Man’s third Hollywood Gold Cup victory had to be his most memorable. He had started off 2007 with a second Big Cap victory, but, at age 6, he was sent to Dubai for the Dubai Duty Free and like most American shippers he could not handle the turf at Nad Al Sheba and was badly beaten. The question was how he would rebound from that experience. Many horses can take three or four months to bounce back to top form, but Lava Man came back in just over two months and finished a strong second in the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap on grass.

Then came the Hollywood Gold Cup, which turned out to be the most gut-wrenching stretch run of his career. At the quarter pole, he collared the front-running A. P. Xcellent, who he had been tracking through slow fractions. But A. P. Xcellent proved to be a stubborn foe and kept battling back. He had his head in front every step of the way down the stretch until Lava Man, fighting him every inch of the way, gave one final desperate lunge and stuck his nose in front right on the wire. A frantic Vic Stauffer, calling the race as if urging Lava Man on, let out with a resounding “Yes!” followed by “There’s the original rags to riches.”

On July 20, 2008, four years after being claimed, Lava Man finished sixth in the Eddie Read Handicap on grass. X-rays taken after the race seemed just a bit off, but that was enough to announce his retirement. However, 17 months went by and, remarkably, Lava Man, at age 8, seemed restless and ready to return to action. He was pronounced 100 percent sound, so they decided to give it a shot. But when he finished last after setting the pace in the San Gabriel Handicap he was retired for good.

There were three options for him: live out his days at Old Friends Retirement Facility in Georgetown, Kentucky, train him to be a hunter/jumper, or seeing if he would take to the job of stable pony for O’Neill, which would keep him close to home. It took him about six months to settle in, but it became obvious he enjoyed the role of stable pony and so began his second career.

At the 2012 Derby, Lava Man became an instant celebrity. Hall of Fame quarterback and TV analyst Terry Bradshaw, who is a horse lover, stopped by O’Neill’s barn and had his picture taken with Lava Man.

Dennis O’Neill told Sports Illustrated, “He’s very mellow around the other horses. He’s like their dad. He leads them around and he’s really good with babies. I’ll Have Another and him are best buds. They go everywhere together.”

So, that pretty much is the story of Lava Man and the contrasting fortunes of two men. Kenly gives thanks every day for the fortunes that smiled down on him. But, he still never takes anything for granted.

“In this game, the minute you start getting cocky and think you know it all, the racing gods will strike you down with a thundering blow,” he said. “It’s been a fairy tale, and we were living right in the middle of it. You have to ask, ‘Where is this book going to go?’ It’s been like a great novel already and you just hope it doesn’t end. You know it will someday, and when it does, you just have to say, ‘Look what he’s done for us. He’s put us in the spotlight; he can’t do any more.’ We always knew it would be a sad day when it ended. But on the flip side, we’re so appreciative to have been involved with a horse like this. No matter what happens, it’s in the books, and you can never take that way. It’s history.”

And that history has continued for another 13 years after his retirement, with the racing world falling in love with Lava Man all over again, as he proudly escorts O’Neill’s top horses around the country, leading them to the track and in the post parade, perhaps giving them a pointer or two from an old pro.

In between he will pose for photos, greet visitors, have little children put on his back, and enjoy all the attention given to him by two generations of racing fans and horse lovers.

As we head into 2022, Lava Man’s “Travels With Charlie” will have to be put on hold for a while as his number one pupil prepares to head off to Dubai for an extended stay. But the old boy still has a barn full of students back home who need his services, especially newly turned 3-year-old Slow Down Andy, who could wind up paying Lava Man’s way back east on another Triple Crown journey. But he, like I’ll Have Another, Nyquist, and Hot Rod Charlie, will come to the realization he will have to play second fiddle to one of the most extraordinary horses of our lifetime.

Photos courtesy of Doug O’Neill Racing Stable, Del Mar Racetrack, Marcie Heacox.

Please note, Lava Man’s original race-worn winning shoe from his record-tying third victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup will be offered as part of the Secretariat ‘Vox Populi” Auction beginning Jan.6 on eBay.

The authenticated shoe, still caked with actual dirt from long-departed Hollywood Park, is accompanied by a mint condition track program from 2007 Gold Cup day, a rare “The Story of Lava Man” DVD, assorted photos, and even a large cutting of his tail hair. A wonderful opportunity to own a special piece of racing history from one of its most beloved and accomplished horses.


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136 Responses to “Lava Man: From Fairy Tale to Pony Tale”

  1. Roberta Greevey says:

    About Emmanuel, Pletcher said “He spiked a 102.5 temperature the morning after we entered. It’s kind of frustrating. We were kind of hoping to get some two-turn experience at Tampa. He’s fine, he’s going back to the track tomorrow. Now we’ve just got to regroup.”

  2. 7.5 Furlongs says:

    Steve Haskin-

    Happy New Year! Would appreciate any insights and comments on the next race prospects for the following three-year-olds, who are currently in training or raced within the last 30 days.

    1. Matt Doyle, Violence-Sophronia by Street Sense, trained by Chad Summers (NY).
    2. Spin Wheel, Hard Spun-Zinzay by Smart Strike, trained by Rusty Arnold (Fla).
    3. Smarten Up, American Freedom-Sarah Cataldo, by Smarty Jones, trained by Alfredo Velazquez (NY).
    4. Gunfighter, Ghostzapper-Gauche by Smart Strike, trained by Brad Cox (LA).
    5. Brigadier General, Street Sense-Mia and Molly by Giant’s Causeway, trained by Dallas Stewart (LA).

    All of the above are offered at odds of between 225-1 and 300-1 at Circa Sportsbook. I have yet to make a Kentucky
    Derby future bet, but am focused on these five wagering interests for now. Thanks for your KD coverage.

    7.5 Furlongs

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Smarten Up will run in the Withers. I have so many good horses to keep tabs on, at this point I have no reason to follow some of these. Matt Doyle and Gunfighter are still maidens, and Matt Doyle hasnt worked in over a month. If hes ok he’ll have to run in a NY maiden race after 4 defeats. Gunfighter ran horribly in his last two starts; hes at FG. Spin Wheel will have to run in an allow or stakes in Florida. He;s been working, Brigadier General has shown very little in 4 starts; still a maiden.

      • Mike Relva says:

        Hey Mr. Haskin,

        What’s problem regarding RNR?

      • 7.5 Furlongs says:

        Originally, Emmanuel was my Plan A. But, when I read that he was a vet’s scratch at Tampa Bay Downs Jan. 7, I switched over to Plan B, which consists of these five hallelujah longshots. I think it’s too early to give up on these five colts. It’s just the second week of January. Their bloodlines are too good. Any one of them is liable to pop up and run a corker. Let’s hope Emmanuel is back on the track soon.

    • Roberta Greevey says:

      Watch out for Strava! He’s coming back in a 6 furlong allowance at Fair Grounds on Saturday. His mum won at a mile & eighth in a stakes at Saratoga. Strava is her first foal. Good story at BloodHorse in November about Dallas Stewart advising Coach Crum to buy Strava for $825,000. I can’t wait to see that beautiful colt when he stretches out. His win in October was most professional!

  3. Mike Relva says:

    Chad’s horse could be real deal,if remaining sound.

  4. Bill Dawson says:

    Dean’s List won a 75K AOC at GP today, (5th race), going 6F in 1:09.34, and is now 2 for2. His pedigree reflects mostly sprinter/middle distance types, in which case routing could be a problem for this Speightstown colt. I would think Pletcher will stretch him out, moving forward, to test for distance. He’s certainly one to keep an eye on.

    • Nelson Maan says:

      Yes Bill… It was a hard fought win with a very stubborn Dean Delivers refusing to lose.

      Pletcher had the promising Iron Work (Distorted Humor – Silverpocketsfull by Indian Charlie) winning his debut a race before in 1:09.76 with a faster four furlongs than Dean’s List’s. Interesting to see the ‘old’ Distorted Humor still throwing very good runners lately.

      I am also curious to see what Pletcher is doing with another brilliant sprinter named My Prankster…

      • Bill Dawson says:

        Hi Nelson

        Yes, I’m looking forward to My Prankster’s next start. On Dec. 23rd, I made 5 Derby Futures bets, My Prankster was one of them. I’ve got him at 95-1, on 5 $10.00 win tickets. My big wager is on Rattle N Roll, at 33-1, ($100.00 to win). I sure would like to know why Emmanuel was scratched out of that AOC race at Tampa Bay Downs yesterday. I’ve got him at 75-1.
        Just out of curiosity, do you have any idea why Emmanuel was scratched by the track Vet?

        • Nelson Maan says:

          No details about Emmanuel scratch so far… I am afraid that even the Stewards Daily Report from Tampa Bay racetrack won’t tell the specific reasons aside from the usual “scratched by the Vet”.

          We will have to rely on any public statement from the connections…!

  5. Steve Haskin says:

    I’ll say this for Pletcher, the only time he loses a maiden race in Florida is when he wins with another horse.

    • Davids says:

      Steve, Pletcher may have lost the battle with Charge It this time but in the long run he might just win the war with him.

    • Kara says:

      Yep, What’s with the theory that it’s the longer shot who wins when a trainer has multiple entries in one race ? I’ve found it semi- reliable ;)….
      Figured you would know, Steve, if anyone did !

    • Roberta Greevey says:

      And I’ll say this for Pletcher, he’s a blight on the Kentucky derby. Alright, thats an over-statement. But really, he almost always has multiple horses in the race and most of them have very little chance of winning. The few Pletcher horses that run well make sense, like his two winners and Revolutionary, Danza, Audible. The rest…he must love to say “Sure!” when the owner ask him if the horse has a good chance in the derby. Plenty of horses have missed the cut because Pletcher runners have filled the gate. There must be a lot of resentment toward him from other trainers and owners.

    • Matthew W says:

      Casse got him yesterday– barely! Thought Charge It’s workmates was professional, at Tampa Bay (In the Union)…did a lot of things in that race, like run into a tight hole, and change paths, he ran like he wanted it!

  6. Coldfacts says:

    I remained puzzled at the annual focus on Todd Pletcher’s likely KD contenders. There is sufficient evidence to indicate his KD contenders usually flatter to deceive.

    Yes! Mr. Pletcher has won 2KDs. But it can be argued by default. Ice Box would have certainly defeated Super Saver if not for multiple stops. Classic Empire was the best entrant in the Always Dreaming KD and would have won is not for misfortune. Neither of TP’s 2 fortunate KD winners ever won a subsequent race.

    With 4 weeks to the 2021 KD, TP went from having no KD contender to 4. But as usual none of his 4 KD entrants hit the board. The Multiple Eclipse Award winning trainer has an abysmal KD record. The passage of time has done nothing to change same. This is despite his annual stable of high-priced youngsters who seem to always flatter to deceive.

    This not an attempt to put TP down. But the cold facts cannot be ignored. There is no place for misplaced emotions in this game. Mr. Pletcher’s KD record precedes him. This fact is ignored at one’s peril.

    Until Mr. Pletcher can deliver a legitimate KD winner. His annual contingent should be noted for likely making the cut but shouldn’t be considered as serious win contenders.

  7. Steve Haskin says:

    Will we see the Kentucky Derby winner this weekend? Three maiden races and two allowance races at Gulfstream and Tampa, with Pletcher firing a barrage of bullets in every race, many with two entered, including the exciting and promising Emmanuel stretching out to two turns at Tampa today. Lots of well-bred horses from big stables, so we’ll see who makes a big impression.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I heard Emmanuel may have been scratched.

      • Bill Dawson says:

        Hi Steve

        It’s official, Emmanuel has been scratched. I was really looking forward to see how he performed in allowance company.
        I’ve got a Derby Futures bet on him at 75-1. If you find out the reason Pletcher scratched him, I’d appreciate knowing the reason.

        • Lynda King says:

          Sorry to hear rumor is true. Was looking forward to him racing. Hope all is well with him and that we will see him soon.

          • Bill Dawson says:

            Hi Lynda

            I’ve got my fingers crossed that he recovers from whatever problem he’s dealing with.
            BTW, I look forward to reading your comments, I consider you one of the more knowledgeable contributors to Steve Haskin’s blog, not only regarding horse racing, but on a variety of subjects.
            Take care.

      • Roberta Greevey says:

        Steve, it says he was a veterinarian scratch. Oh my.

        I’ve been catching up on all of your stories at this site. I’m almost done. LOL. What a treat. And I’m looking forward to your derby postings. I like Pappacap and Smile Happy right now, but things can change drastically as we move along. I noticed that TDN had its first derby ranking and their top two are the same as mine. I was first. Ha ha!

      • Bill Dawson says:

        I’ve always found it troubling when a horse is scratched by the veterinarian, and not by the trainer.
        Any thoughts in that regard?
        Thanks Steve.

    • Davids says:

      Gulfstream, Saturday – Race 7. looks very interesting.

      • Nelson Maan says:

        A very interesting race indeed…!

        The homebred Charge It looks like another good one for Pletcher.

        The son of Tapit got the same cross as Flightline’s with the addition of Broodmare of the Year and dual millionaire , Take Charge Lady, as his second dam. If Charge It is true to his December 27th workout he should win his debut at a mile.

        Another Pletcher debutante that will be taking money is Calipari by Curlin… but he does not seem to be that fast.
        Touch Code for Bill Mott is going to improve from his distant second behind Emmanuel in their debut also at a mile.

        And Shug McGaughey is debuting Trending by Uncle Mo and with a very prolific second dam in Heat Lighting (mom of champion 2-year old Stevie Wonderboy). His workouts are outstanding but Shug is not known for a lot of debut winners … unless the horse is really a good one (i.e. Honor Code, Code of Honor).

        Anyways, I will be watching the longshots Logico and Volcanic while hunting for a nice longshot against the bluebloods in that 7th race at Gulfstream tomorrow…

        • Davids says:

          Yes Nelson, the Bill Mott trained Touch Code, close relative to West Coast, should improve on his last start debut but may take longer than some. Charge It is the one that draws the eye here, going on the workouts, so let’s hope the weather plays it part as well.

      • Nelson Maan says:

        Also in the 5th we will see a super fast horse named Dean’s List… another Pletcher prospect who looks to be a brilliant sprinter going ahead…

    • Matthew W says:

      I like the work pattern of Charge it, in the Gulfstream seventh….homebreds don’t win debut races, as often as auction bought, but Saez is up, and he is running away with the jockey title, getting on live mounts— and it’s Pletcher! By Tapit, out of an Indian Charlie mare, now where have I read about those bloodlines ….Pletcher has another first time starter at Tampa, Union Rags out of a Bernardini mare named In the Union, another nice work pattern and in fact they may have been work mates.

      • Davids says:

        Yes Matthew, good call. Charge It might be the runner that Whisper Hill have been hoping for. I’m following the Bill Mott trained Tap the Gavel in race 8 at Tampa Bay on Saturday. Distance could be an equalizer for this colt. Wait and see for both.

      • Davids says:

        Charge It ran as expected, impressive. Next time could be explosive. Tampa results can often be confusing but I really enjoy their meet with the Derby prep races. Good call with In the Union.

        • Matthew W says:

          Thank you, thought his 5-1 price was generous! Steve is spot on, about Derby contenders, it it currently wide open….I love Slow Down Andy, who beat Nessier in the square, with tons of upside! Leggy colt has talent!

  8. Coldfacts says:

    If Flightline is this once in a lifetime beast. Why hasn’t his connections opted to run him in the Saudi Cup?

    Assuming the winner is entitled to 60% of the $20M purse. A win would clear Flightline’s $1M purchase prices plus his keep and care costs to date.

    Given the accolades bestowed on this colt. He should be capable of doing the Saudi /Dubai World Cup double. Remember, nothing like him has ever been seen before. Well, to the unaware and uninformed.

    His achievement cannot be merely feasting on low hanging fruits in CA. Even winning over the usual small G1 fields around the country, wouldn’t distinguish him from past brilliant horses whose resumes had their fair share of win over the same cast of characters, over whom they towered.

    Arrogate won the Travers, BCC, Pegasus & DWC. That’s a difficult act to follow. But if any horse can emulate his feat it has to be the wonder horse Flightline. Well, the bar for modern day greatness continues to be moved. It isn’t surprising that a colt that hasn’t achieved anything of significant has already been assigned greatness.

    • Matthew W says:

      For a guy who criticizes Bob and his program….you use his horse as an example of greatness, make up your mind. Next week you’ll be using Arrogate’s “shooting star” career to vilify the guy. Hronis Bros have had success in recent years—I’m trying to remember if they’re sent their stock to the middle east, not sure it’s in their plan.

    • Mike Relva says:

      Be candid CF and acknowledge no horse is ever good enough.

  9. Dawn Miller says:

    Thank you Steve for a beautifully written article about a very special horse and his special people. On a bitterly cold day here, your story left me with a warm glow.

  10. Kara says:

    Hi Steve ~ Your writing is truly and seriously like a box of chocolates …. It’s a delight to look at the Title and imagine what’s inside …. then the box is slowly opened in anticipation of how much is there (the more/ the longer, the better!), then each line is savored and enjoyed as one reads to the end of the deliciousness of the paragraph …. And then the enjoyment can be closed and saved to make it last as long as possible, or one can indulge in gobbling up the whole story (through no fault of their own) but only because it is JUST. THAT. GOOD !!!!! Happy 2022 ! Can’t wait for your next one …..

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Wow! Thank you Kara for that mouth-watering description. And literally seconds after I had a Girardelli chocolate. I really appreciate the time and creativity you put into that.

      • Kara says:

        Girardelli ~ Ha! Now, that’s funny .. Actually, my remarks flowed like the chocolate on those rotating volcano-like chocolate machines ~ that are always just out of reach …. !
        I’m curious .. I saw mentioned somewhere that you were visiting Bolivia ~ are there horsey goings-on there ? Sounds interesting

        • Steve Haskin says:

          That was a joke, based on someone’s comment that I was going to the Amazon when I said I wont have internet where I’m going for Christmas. However, I have been to Uruguay.

          • Kara says:

            Good one ! ~ totally flew over my head LOL ! Yes, and your Uruguay stories are fascinating; my choice would be Mongolia (for no internet) – ever since reading ‘The Mongolian Pony’ as a kid

    • Lynda King says:

      Love this!

  11. Coldfacts says:

    What’s the deal with American trainers regarding Race Day Medication?

    Emmanuel the highly regarded More Than Ready colt Emmanuel, was an impressive debut winner over 8F by 6 3/4L with no Lasix and whilst under gentle urging in the last furlong.

    Emmanuel will make his 2nd start in an Allowance Optional Claim at Tampa Bay on Friday. The colt will run with Lasix? Why administer Lasix to an impressive MSW winner? Lasix in not allowed in KD Preps. It therefore baffles the mind that Lasix will administered for an Allowance and will not be administered for the colt’s likely next start in the Holy Bull.

    Why subject the colt’s system to process and filter Lasix in a one-off race? What message is Todd Pletcher communicating to the racing public?

    Also, in the Friday Allowance is Mark Casse’s Golden Glider who won on debut over 8 1/2F. He closed from 12th and last to win by1L. He made his debut with Lasix. However, he will contest the Allowance without Lasix.

    With Lasix not allowed in KD Preps and graded races at most tracks. Why are trained not committed to elimination of the RDN in totality?

    Mendelssohn won the UAE Derby by a city block. He was administered Lasix for the KD and the colt finished last. Why in the name of sanity would a RDM be administer to a colt that won its previous start without RDM by 20L?

  12. SoloSolo says:

    Great read, Steve, and Happy New Year to you! I read that when Lava Man first started as a pony, he’d get all worked up, thinking that he was the race horse about to run. They must of calmed him down a bit since he’s the perfect pony in every way. Can’t wait for the Derby rankings. Let the games begin.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks, thats correct. I just didnt go into that. He also had stem cell treatment which I didnt get into. Tried to keep t as tight as possible because it was so long.

      • SoloSolo says:

        I understand, and the gist of the story was about Lava Man’s background and popularity. It was a wonderful story, beautifully told.

  13. Mike Relva says:

    Mr. Haskin, wonderful read! Michael Blowen informed me when Lava Man was done racing Old Friends was considered.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks Mike. More than considered. They basically said he was coming and Michael even made up Lava Man hats. But they decided they wanted to keep him closer to home so they changed their mind,

  14. Matthew W says:

    The 2005 Hollywood Gold Cup was Lava Man’s tour de force! His only dirt Gr1 win, and his power was on display!

  15. Nelson Maan says:

    Thanks, Steve, for your engaging first article of 2022. What an enjoyable way to start the new year!

    Happy New Year to you and to all the members of your blogosphere. I hope you had a good time in Bolivia.

    Lava Man’s story ranks among the greatest claims in the history of horse racing. He and Stymie are the only Hall of Fame horses to have been claimed. Other Hall of Famers like Seabiscuit and John Henry ran in claimers but were never claimed.

    After learning that Hot Rod Charlie’s Vox Populi title may have piggybacked on the fame of Lava Man one could also consider the beautiful Gelding to be the most famous Stable Pony ever as well.

    Lava Man can be thought as a perennial Hall of Famer thanks to his versatility and intelligence.

    His toughness was key when he recovered rather quickly after undergoing an emergency colic surgery in July 2018.
    It was the same Bravura he displayed in winning the 2006 Hollywood Gold Cup after stumbling badly at the start. Another remarkable performance was his seventh consecutive Stakes win in the 2006 Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap over the Santa Anita Derby victor, Brother Derek, and the Derby winner Giacomo.

    The HOY that year was awarded to the great Invasor who ended the year undefeated in six Grade one races.

    A Californian Champion, incredibly beautiful and a superb Pony, Lava Man lends hope to the many looking for hidden gems among castoff horses…

    Thanks again Steve for celebrating Lava Man … the Hall of Fame horse that had it all and did it all in California…!