Today, during the Preakness Post Parade, the announcers talked a little bit about Lava Man, a former race horse who was acting as I'll Have Another's pony. The pony's job is to keep the nervous young horses quiet and calm. Lava Man is a gelding, so he can't be put out to stud, but it is interesting that he has a second career as a pony for a great horse, because Lava Man is, himself, a great horse.
I had checked out of racing for a bit around 2004-2007, so I didn't realize how great until I did a little research.
Lava Man started out somewhere below the bottom of the barrel. He was well-bred but not well purchased and at 2 years old he was racing in a $12,500 dollar maiden claiming race at a Fairgrounds track. Claiming races are when every horse in the race is for sale at that price...in this case...$12,500. This is where your cart horses come from...and where the "make them into dog food" fears arise, too. It's a hard grind for a horse at this level, because nobody cares about you, you make little, if any, money and you are raced until you drop or someone takes you off your owner's hands. But Lava Man lucked out when he fell into the hands of O'Neill, and got a shot at stakes races in California.
And not just any Stakes races...but GRADE 1 races in great company. O'Neill is, apparently, a crazy man or a good judge of cheap horse flesh. I'll Have Another cost him $11,000. At four years old, Lava Man was fitted with blinkers and he got his mind on his job and started winning Handicap races, while carrying the heaviest weights in the field.
Here he is putting away the best in the land in the Hollywood Gold Cup in 2005 in a record shattering win...
He won again the next year. In 2006, he won The Santa Anita Handicap, The Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Coast Classic all Grade 1 races. He was the first horse to ever do that in the same calendar year. He is the all time leading Stakes race winner in California history. He is the only horse to ever win a major race at every California race track. He is the third highest money earner in the history of California racing. He has won on dirt, grass and artificial surfaces. He was California Horse of the year in 2006 as well as Older Horse of the Year and Turf Horse of the Year. He has been compared to Seabiscuit and is arguably the greatest claiming horse of all time. You can read all about his amazing career on wikipedia here...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lava_Man
Oh, and he walks I'll Have Another to the post, to keep him calm. And I bet he gives him a few tips, too, just like an old coach with a promising new recruit, "Get your nose in front, son! That's what they expect of you. Win big and you don't have to find a new home."
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