12/27/2009 12:00AM

Lava Man's future up in the air

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Lava Man's last-place finish in Sunday's at Santa Anita after an 18-month break may result in the conclusive retirement of the 8-year-old gelding.

After the race, trainer Doug O'Neill and co-owner Jason Wood expressed disappointment in the results. Lava Man led to the final turn, and faded through the stretch to finish 6 1/4 lengths behind race winner Proudinsky, the defending champion.

"I thought he'd more fight than that," O'Neill said.

Asked about Lava Man's future, O'Neill said, "I don't know. He'll go back to the track in three or four days if we decide to go on with it."

O'Neill reserved making a decision on Lava Man's future until he confers this week with Wood and co-owners Steve, Dave and Tracy Kenly. The options include a 9-year-old campaign in 2010 or retirement.

Wood was non-committal after the race. "We'll have to regroup," Wood said. "Tyler said he got tired. I expected him to be tough and run 1-2-3. But a mile and an eighth off a layoff is asking a lot. He was training so well. I thought he'd do it.

"I expected more. Lava, when he turns for home, he creates some separation with the other horses. When I didn't see that separation, the race was over. He shouldn't be tired at that point, after a half-mile in 48 seconds."

Ridden by Tyler Baze, Lava Man set fractions of 24.06 and 48.14 seconds, leading by as much as 1 1/2 lengths. "Tyler said he gave him something, but couldn't sustain it," O'Neill said.

Lava Man returned to the unsaddling area with blood visible on both his hind legs. It was unclear how the apparent cut occurred, O'Neill said. He speculated that Lava Man struck the side of the starting gate.

The Grade 2 San Gabriel, run over 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. It was his 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.