HORSE RACING Stem-cell-aided rehab has Lava Man ready for comeback
Larry Stumes, San Francisco Chronicle, Saturday, December 12, 2009
Like many great athletes, Lava Man couldn't, or wouldn't, stay retired.
The celebrated gelding, who turns 9 years old Jan. 1, began his career in 2003 at the San Joaquin Fair in Stockton, was claimed for $50,000 out of his 13th start and won seven Grade 1 events in a two-year span 2005-07.
He is the only horse ever to sweep the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic in the same year, the only one to win a Grade 1 event on dirt, synthetic and grass and joins Native Diver as the only three-time winners of the Gold Cup.
When he retired after a sixth straight loss July 20, 2008, Lava Man had won 17 of 46 starts with eight seconds and five thirds and had earned $5,268,706.
Lava Man, who had been living a life of leisure at Magali Farms in Santa Ynez, underwent surgery on his front ankles late last year and then began a battery of stem-cell treatments directed by Dr. Doug Herthel at Alamo Pintado Equine Clinic in Los Olivos.
Lava Man came out of his rehabilitation so well that owners Steve Kenly and Jason Wood and trainer Doug O'Neill approved a recommendation by Herthel that he return to competition.
So Lava Man has been entered in today's Grade 3, $100,000 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park, although O'Neill said he would be scratched if significant rain fell before the race.
"We do rely a lot on their body language, and even if he was a little body-sore from a race or a workout he was always full of himself," O'Neill said in a telephone interview. "He had to be the first one out of the stall every day or he'd knock the barn down. On the farm, they said he was real quiet and wasn't being involved."
The stem cells Lava Man received in his ankles were extracted from his sternum in a process Herthel began using in 1995 and has used on numerous horses.
"Dr. Herthel contacted me in June or July and said, 'You've got to come up and see him because he looks so good and so happy,' " O'Neill said. "The beauty of the clinic is that they have every bell and whistle when it comes for diagnostics for animals."
The stem-cell treatments ended in September, and Lava Man returned to O'Neill's barn to begin serious workouts. He's had eight of them, with the last four being 6 furlongs in distance.
"Part of the stem-cell program is that he had to continue to be in training," O'Neill said. "So he was much more advanced than the average horse coming in from the farm."
Even though synthetic surfaces like Hollywood Park's Cushion Track handle rain, Lava Man's comeback will begin today only if it is dry.
"It's just playing the conservative card," O'Neill said. "He's trained so great on the dry synthetic track, and though moisture does seem to help, it wouldn't be the same track he's been training on."
Nice post ELK. We would be light years ahead just like the animals with the stem cells had it not been for the Bush years of limited research. In Germany they are doing wonders with the spinal cord injury stem cell repairs and we can only hope that our research we catch up soon. Not that I am a fan of Obama but he did pave the wave for new and up coming therapies. The only question is who and what age bracket will be able to benifit from stem cell therapies as the way it is the new health care bill will limit care.