Lava Man, the immensely popular 8-year-old gelding who will make his first start in 16 months Saturday in the $100,000 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park, has added a new member to his fan club in Dr. Doug Herthel, the veterinarian responsible for his comeback.
“We’ll be there if it doesn’t rain,” said Herthel Thursday from his Alamo Pintado Equine Clinic in Los Olivos, where he performed stem cell therapy on the ankles of the multiple stakes-winning multi-millionaire to enable him to return from Magali Farms three miles away to the Doug O’Neill stable here.
“We started with an MRI, and then Lava Man underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove fragments in his ankles,” explained Herthel. “He underwent five separate stem cell treatments starting about a year ago and ending in September.”
According to Herthel, Lava Man’s treatment consisted of arthroscopic evaluation of both fetlock joints, chip fracture removal of the left front and cartilage scoring evaluation. He was also examined with x-rays, nuclear scintigraphy and an MRI.
Lava Man was treated with bone marrow and autologous stem cells. He received 10 million cells per joint once a month for two months, and then 50 million cells once a month for three months.
“We got stem cells from bone marrow in his sternum and did the therapy to help restore the health of his cartilage,” continued Herthel. “We saw improvement right away. He’s been sound for the last nine months.
“He hasn’t been treated for more than three months, although we did a bone scan since he returned to the stable, and everything looked real good,” added Herthel.
Although Lava Man may return as the poster boy for equine stem cell therapy, the procedure is nothing new, according to the veterinarian.
“We started stem-cell treatments in 1995, and have done more than 4,000 at the clinic,” said Herthel. “We started with ligaments and added joints about eight years ago.”
Herthel said that his long list of patients includes Ever a Friend, who returned from identical therapy to finish second in the Grade I Citation Handicap here Nov. 27.
“Lava Man has been sound for the last nine months,” concluded Herthel. “If he were to show any unsoundness, he would be returned to become a pleasure horse.”
O’Neill never expected to see the three-time Hollywood Gold Cup winner back at his barn in September following Lava Man’s retirement in the autumn of 2008 following a sixth-place finish in his last start in the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar in July.
But through the advances of veterinary medicine, the “big horse” is ready to roll again, according to O’Neill, for owners STD Racing and Jason Wood.
“It’s hard to tell how we will do after such a long layoff,” admitted O’Neill. “He’s training phenomenal. He probably needs a race or two before he’s back at the top-top level, but he’s shown us he’s ready to return at major competition.”
Lava Man, who has won 17 of 46 starts and earned $5,268,706, will be ridden for the first time in the Native Diver by Joel Rosario. He jogged one mile and galloped 1 ½ miles under regular exercise rider Tony Romero Thursday.
“It’s nice to dream about a fourth Gold Cup next summer, but for now I’m just so excited to have him back,” said O’Neill. “He looks like a happy camper, and I can’t wait for Saturday.”
The Grade III Native Diver will be run at 1 1/8 miles on Cushion Track. Lava Man drew post two in a field of six under high weight of 118 pounds.
Seattle Ruler, winner of the Barretts Juvenile Stakes at Fairplex Park and third in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes in his last start Nov. 21, will return in the $750,000 CashCall Futurity on Dec. 19, trainer Mike Harrington confirmed Thursday.
“He’s not at all like Swiss Yodeler,” said Harrington of his 1996 Futurity winner. “He’s got Fusaichi Pegasus genes and is bred to go two turns.”
Seattle Ruler is a Kentucky-bred chestnut colt by Roman Ruler, a son of Fusaichi Pegasus, out of the A.P. Indy mare Decades of Style.
Seattle Ruler worked six furlongs in 1:12.40 Sunday and will work once more this weekend before the Grade I test at 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track. Martin Garcia, who has ridden him in all eight starts, has the call back.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who won the race for a fourth time last year with Pioneerof the Nile, said Thursday that he planned to start three colts this year in quest of a record fifth victory.
The Baffert triumvirate will be headed by Eclipse Award candidate Lookin at Lucky, winner of the Grade I Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk Stakes and an unlucky second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Baffert said Lookin at Lucky would be joined by Generous Stakes runner-up Marcello and either Conveyance or The Program. Garrett Gomez, who rode Pioneerof the Nile to victory last year, has the call back on Lookin at Lucky. Jose Valdivia Jr. will ride Marcello and Victor Espinoza has the call on the third colt.
Expected to join the Baffert trio and Seattle Ruler are Noble’s Promise, third-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, to be ridden by Robby Albarado; and Get My Fix, runner-up in the Prevue, Joseph Talamo up.
Blind Luck, winner of the Oak Leaf Stakes and third-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, worked seven furlongs in 1:26.20 here Thursday for the $300,000 Hollywood Starlet on Dec. 20, closing day of the Autumn Meet.
Rafael Bejarano will ride Blind Luck for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer in the Grade I test for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track.
Trainer Mark Glatt said Thursday that It Tiz will join the Starlet field. The daughter of Tiznow finished third in the Moccasin Stakes here Nov. 22 following a pair of fourths in the Grade I Darley Debutante and Oak Leaf Stakes.
“The Moccasin didn’t go that great, but she still ran third, and she‘s not a sprinter,” said Glatt of the seven-furlong race. “We’ll take our best shot.” Joel Rosario has the call back.
Suzanne will be shipped west and supplemented to the race, according to stakes co-ordinator Dan Eidson. The Florida-bred Officer chestnut was a troubled seventh in her last start in a stake on the Calder turf on Nov. 14. Suzanne, victorious in one of seven starts, is trained by Greg Sacco for owner William Schettine.
Other probable starters are Beautician, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, with Robby Albarado up; Moccasin winner Bickersons, with Joseph Talamo; Moccasin runner-up Miss Heather Lee, with Victor Espinoza; and Amen Hallelujah, third-place finisher in the Alcibiades Stakes, Alex Solis up.
Trainer Carl O’Callaghan celebrated his 34th birthday in style Monday, one day after sending out Kinsale King to an upset victory in the $100,000, Grade III Vernon O. Underwood Stakes, the first stakes victory for both.
“The steak went down real good,” said O’Callaghan with a smile Thursday of his dinner reward.
“Kinsale King came back in good shape,” added O’Callaghan. “The race did not take a lot out of him. I’m turning him out for a few days in Chino at a facility where he can swim.
“He’ll be back next week, and we’ll look next at the Palos Verdes (Handicap Jan. 23) at Santa Anita,” continued O’Callaghan. “Hopefully, we’ll get a berth to the Shaheen.”
O’Callaghan would love to ship Kinsale King to Dubai for the Golden Shaheen Stakes in March. He became familiar with shipping to Dubai as an assistant to Todd Pletcher.
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