01/05/2010 12:00AM

Lava Man retired after comeback

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Barbara D. Livingston
Lava Man, with trainer Doug O'Neill at Hollywood in December, finished last in his comeback race in the Grade 2 San Gabriel.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Lava Man, who rose from a $50,000 claimer to the winner of seven Grade 1 stakes, has been retired after a comeback attempt last month ended with a last-place finish in the at Santa Anita, co-owner Steve Kenly said on Tuesday.

Kenly, who owns Lava Man with his father and sister, Dave and Tracy, and Jason Wood, made the decision earlier this week after consulting with trainer Doug O'Neill and veterinarian Doug Herthel.

The Grade 2 San Gabriel, run at 1 1/8 miles on turf, was Lava Man's first start since he resumed training in late summer after undergoing stem cell therapy to regenerate cartilage tissue in an ankle earlier this year. The San Gabriel was Lava Man's first start since a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar in July 2008. His retirement was announced after that race, but he was put back in training last summer.

"I've thought a lot since that last race," Steve Kenly said of the San Gabriel. "We were expecting more out of him. His ankles were better, but the thing that probably caught up with him was time.

"We said that if he couldn't compete at the highest level, we wouldn't continue. That's what made this decision possible. Obviously, he lost a step. It was his first race back in a year and a half. When the running really started, he couldn't keep pace with the better horses."

O'Neill was not available for comment on Tuesday morning.

Kenly said plans for Lava Man are uncertain. Some of the options being considered are keeping him at the racetrack as a pony, or training him to be a hunter-jumper. Kenly emphasized that Lava Man's stem-cell procedure will make the gelding more comfortable.

"He's clinically sound, and so much sounder than he was when he started this process," Kenly said. "It's a win-win deal. The only downswing was he didn't perform better than expected. We don't regret what we've done.

"His second career, whatever it will be and we haven't decided, is unlimited. He could be a hunter-jumper, a pony, or retired in a field, and he'll get along better in those scenarios. He'll be a much sounder horse than two years ago. The chronic arthritis would have gotten worse and worse."

Claimed for $50,000 in the summer of 2004, Lava Man, 9, won three runnings of the Hollywood Gold Cup from 2005-07, the 2006 Santa Anita Handicap, and the 2006 Pacific Classic, among his major stakes wins. A fan favorite in Southern California, Lava Man won 17 of 47 starts and $5,268,706.