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Lava Man

9 Lava Man a2 3.3.07 .jpg

Lava Man, Corey Nakatani up (Benoit Photo)
Lava Man
Induction Year: 
Lonnie Arterburn, Eve Kuhlmann and Kim Kuhlmann
Lonnie Arterburn, Eve Kuhlmann, Kim Kuhlmann, Jonah Widmer, et al; STD Racing Stable and Jason Wood
Lonnie Arterburn; Doug F. O’Neill
Slew City Slew
L'il Ms. Leonard
Nostalgia's Star
Career Years: 

Tab Wrapper


The story of Lava Man is a rags-to-riches tale of a former claimer that began his career at a county fair and went on to defy the odds and become one of the most successful and popular racehorses of the first decade of the 21st century.


A gelded son of Slew City Slew out of the Nostalgia’s Star mare L’il Ms. Leonard, Lava Man was bred in California by Lonnie Arterburn, Eve Kuhlmann and Kim Kuhlmann and trained by Arterburn until he was claimed during his 3-year-old season for $50,000 by trainer Doug O’Neill for STD Racing Stable and partner Jason Wood.


Lava Man became a fan favorite, winning seven Grade 1 races — setting a record for a California-bred — and compiled a career record of 17-8-5 from 47 starts with earnings of $5,268,706. Among California-bred horses, only Hall of Famers Tiznow and Best Pal and 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome have higher career earnings.


Lava Man won three consecutive editions of the Hollywood Gold Cup (2005 through 2007), matching a feat Hall of Famer Native Diver accomplished from 1965 through 1967. He also won back-to-back runnings of the Santa Anita Handicap in 2006 and 2007.


“What an amazing honor,” trainer Doug O’Neill said of Lava Man being elected to the Hall of Fame. “He’s family to me and to everyone connected with him. You are lucky if you get a horse like this once in a lifetime.”


O’Neill praised Steve Kenly, one of the partners in STD Racing, for noticing Lava Man.


“All credit goes to Steve Kenly. He picked him out and really liked him,” O’Neill said. “He was looking for a nice Cal-bred at the time and Lava Man was that and so much more.”


As a 2-year-old, Lava Man made his career debut in June 2003 in a $12,500 maiden claiming race at the San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton, Calif., by finishing fourth at odds of 36-1. Lava Man finally broke his maiden in his fifth career start, winning a maiden special weight at Bay Meadows in his final race as a 2-year-old. 


Lava Man was claimed by O’Neill after finishing second in a race at Del Mar in August 2004. He returned to the track for his new owners a month later with a victory in the Fairplex Park Derby Trial. Lava Man ran four more times that year, finishing second three times and third once. 


As a 4-year-old, Lava Man began to generate some buzz when he scored his first graded victory in the Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park in 2005. He won the first of his three Hollywood Gold Cups in his next start, earnings his first Grade 1 win with a record eight-length win with a 120 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort.


In 2006, Lava Man continued his brilliance at the age of 5 by winning the Santa Anita Handicap, Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic and Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap. He became the first horse since Vanlandingham 21 years earlier to win a Grade 1 on both dirt and turf in the same year. Lava Man was also the first horse to win the Hollywood Gold Cup, Santa Anita Handicap and Pacific Classic in the same year (a feat since equaled by Game On Dude). In the Santa Anita Handicap, he defeated the favored High Limit, as well as 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Wilko.


Lava Man came back as a 6-year-old in 2007 to win the Santa Anita Handicap for a second time and the Hollywood Gold Cup for a third time. He was named California Horse of the Year in 2005 and 2006; California Champion Older Horse in 2005, 2006 and 2007; and California Champion Turf Horse in 2006.