Steve Kenly, one of the three gentlemen who claimed Lava Man for $50,000 at Del Mar in August 2004 and saw him evolve into a seven-time Grade 1 winner, the only horse to win Grade 1 races on turf, dirt and synthetics and one of the most popular horses in California racing history, has no second thoughts about putting the 8-year-old gelding back into training for a possible comeback.
Lava Man drilled three furlongs in 36 seconds over Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track on Wednesday morning and is said to be a different horse since undergoing months of stem-cell therapy on bad ankles at Dr. Doug Herthel’s Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Hospital in Los Olivos, Calif.
“It got to the point where it’s like, he’s doing so darn well, how can you not think about bringing him back?” Kenly said from his Arizona home on Thursday afternoon. “This is a horse who when he trains, you don’t have to lead him to the race track, he wants to take you there. He wants to be on that race track and you can’t even pull the horse up.
“He may not get (back to the races), but right now it’s looking pretty good. I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves or get too excited in case he doesn’t make it back, but right now he’s telling you everything you want to see from a horse. Forget the number (age) in front of his name, he’s going really strong. But this game is tough, and any day anything can happen to any horse.”
If Lava Man is a far happier animal by running and a veterinarian who knows far more about this stuff than I do says it’s the right thing, I don’t see any problem with trying to determine if he wants to race again.
Kenly compares the possible comeback to the ones made by NFL quarterback Brett Favre, who has frustrated some with his on-again, off-again retirements.
“The funny part about this is that people also rip on (Favre),” he said. “But I’ll tell you one thing, in my opinion, whether you like Brett Favre or don’t like him, it’s sure a heck of a lot more exciting to read the paper or watch SportsCenter when he’s playing than when he’s not.
“And I’d say the same thing about Lava Man — it’s better to have him participating in the game than sitting retired on the farm if he can do it. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself because, well, he’s 8 years old, right? We’re a long ways off. He passed a pretty good test (Wednesday), but he’s still got a lot more tests to go.”
It would be one thing if they were thinking of bringing Lava Man back as a high-stakes claimer or high-level allowance horse, but both Kenly and trainer Doug O’Neill say that if he comes back, it will be to race in stakes races and nothing more.
Horse racing needs its equine heroes, and Lava Man was certainly that while winning a record-tying three consecutive Hollywood Park Gold Cups and back-to-back Santa Anita Handicaps.
What do you think? Vote in our poll and then leave a comment telling us why you agree or disagree with the decision to put Lava Man back into training.