07/21/2008 11:00PM

Lava Man's career could be over

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Benoit & Associates
Lava Man may have run his last career race.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Lava Man, the $50,000 claimer who went on to win seven Grade 1 races and earn more than $5 million, may have run his last race.

Monday, a day after Lava Man finished last of six in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar, owners Steve Kenly and Jason Wood and trainer Doug O’Neill were debating the future of the 7-year-old gelding.

Early in the morning, Kenly and O’Neill said they were likely to retire Lava Man. By late morning, they had backed away from that position, Kenly said.

“We decided, Let’s rest on it for a week and reflect, see how the horse is doing,” he said. “We’ll take our time.

“I’m kind of getting tugged all over the place,” he said. “My first thought after the race was we witnessed the end of the era.”

But Kenly admitted that he could not bring himself to say that Lava Man had been retired.

“It’s definitely on the table that he will be put out to pasture somewhere,” he said. “I’m having a hard time saying the word.”

Aside from Wood, Kenly co-owns Lava Man with his father and sister, Dave and Tracy.

There was a difference of thought within the Lava Man camp. Monday, O’Neill was leaning toward retiring Lava Man, and even suggested that the gelding be given a lengthy break and made into a stable pony.

O’Neill, who has trained Lava Man since he was claimed for $50,000 on Aug. 13, 2004, was advising Wood and Kenly to end the gelding’s career.

“We’re definitely kicking him out and retirement is the right word,” he said. “The thing that makes it tough is that he looks so well. I think it's time to hang up the glue-on shoes.”

Lava Man is on a six-race losing streak. In Sunday’s Eddie Read, he stalked pacesetter Storm Military to the eighth pole and faded to finish 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Monzante. Lava Man has lost three races this year, including a third, by a neck, in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 7.

His most recent win came in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup in June 2007, his third consecutive win in that race. Lava Man joined Native Diver (1965-67) as the only three-time winners of the Gold Cup. Lava Man’s other Grade 1 wins have come in consecutive runnings of the Santa Anita Handicap in 2006-07, the 2006 Pacific Classic, and the 2006 Whittingham.

A California-bred, Lava Man has earned $5,268,706 in his 46-race career, which includes 17 wins. He has earned $5,170,103 since being claimed.