Two-time Kentucky Derby, multiple graded stakes winning thoroughbred horse trainer with success at all levels.
Lava Man Retired to Old Friends
October 19, 2022
It is with great excitement and sadness that Lava Man will make his final coaching duties chaperoning Hot Rod Charlie to the gate in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland Racecourse.
With tons of life left in his spirit, body and mind we look forward to seeing lots of other people being able to meet and experience his greatness and uniqueness at Old Friends in Kentucky. Old Friends and Michael Blowen are very excited to welcome Hall of Fame, Lava Man as their newest permanent resident after Breeders’ Cup.
We would like to give a special “Thank You” to these special and important people in Lava Man’ s life— Dave and Steve Kenly, Jason Wood his longtime owners. In addition, Noe Garcia (his long-time groom), Antonio Romero (his long-time exercise rider) and Sabas Rivera (his two-legged brother). Jimmy Jimenez (no foot, no horse long time shoer) and our right-hand man, Leandro Mora.
We would like to also thank Corey Nakatani and Patrick Valenzula who piloted him to several Grade 1 victories. Hollywood Park, Santa Anita and Del Mar Racetracks and management who supported Lava Man during his racing career. We would like to thank the National Racing Hall of Fame for his induction in his first year of eligibility in 2015.
At Team O’Neill we are extremely grateful for the 18 years we had to race and work alongside Lava Man. He can never be replaced, and we will never look to replace him.
Farewell, Lava Man. We Love You.
You can read more about his life legacy below.
Meet Hall-of-Famer LAVA MAN
"Coach" Lava Man plays such a special role in our barn now that he is retired from racing. Affectionately known as “Coach", Lava Man is a member of both the California Hall of Fame and the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame.
Lava Man ran his first race as a 2 year old in June of 2003 - a $12,500 maiden claiming race at the San Joaquin County Fair. It was a slow career start as he lost his first few races. But a switch to turf really showcased his potential as he began winning allowance races at Golden Gate Fields.
His trainer at the time did not have many options for places to run, so Lava Man was entered into a $62,500 claiming race at Del Mar. He finished a disappointing 6th place and was dropped down a notch. His next race was a $50,000 claiming race, where he was claimed by Doug O’Neil.
Lava Man began to flourish. He took home the Derby Trial Stakes and finished second in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes. After a few disappointing races, Doug thought a change was in order. So, he decided to run the horse with blinkers on. From there he won a $100,000 claimer, the Grade 2 Californian Stakes, and the $750,000 Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. These successes culminated with a third place finish in the Pacific Classic.
After some much-deserved rest, Lava Man had back to back wins in the $1,000,000 Sunshine Millions Classic, $1,000,000 Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, Khaled Stakes (where he set a new track record for 1 1/8 mile), Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap, The Hollywood Gold Cup and his success continued. He was named "Horse of the Meet" for the 2006 Del Mar racing season and the Oak Tree Racing season.
In January 2007, he won his first start of the year in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf by two lengths. Later in March of the same year he repeated his 2006 victory in the $1,000,000 Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap (becoming only the third horse to do so). After running poorly in Dubai and finishing second in the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap, he came back to win the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup for his third consecutive year and set a new course record for 1 1/4 miles on the new Hollywood cushion track surface (With his win on cushion track, he became the first horse to win Grade 1 races on three different surfaces: conventional dirt, turf, and cushion track).
In January of 2010, Lava Man's retirement was announced, but Team O'Neill was reluctant to part with this special horse. So he was made a 'coach' much to everyone's pleasure! He was inducted into the National Museum of Horse Racing's Hall of Fame in 2015.
In his post-racing role, he has the opportunity to take youngsters to the track every morning and show them the ropes. Lava Man still gets many visitors on a daily basis and we are proud to call him part of the team!