Race of the Week 2017

HRN Original Blog:
Dueling Down The Stretch

Lava Man...King of California

We have already gone over the Horse of the Decade debate thousands of times, some say Curlin, some say Ghostzapper, some say Invasor, or some say Zenyatta. But, one thing we haven’t discussed is who was the best horse to race in California last decade. I know many will say that Zenyatta is a slam dunk for that, but I say WHOA Nellie, not so fast. Was Zenyatta spectacular? Was she popular? Was she great? All questions answered with a resounding yes, but I still believe that there may have been another horse whose credentials may stand above even hers….Lava Man.

Before you all call me insane, stupid, or any other derogatory adjectives, let me explain myself. Was Lava Man unbeaten? No, he was not, but he was nothing short of one of the greatest horses to ever race in the state of California in the last 30 years. Some of the more well known facts that glitter upon his impressive resume are that he is the ONLY horse to ever win a grade one race over dirt, turf, and synthetic. He won three Hollywood Gold Cups -a feat only the great Native Diver has achieved before him- , two Santa Anita Handicaps, and the Pacific Classic. He also has the distinction of being the only horse to ever sweep the Big Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic in the same calander year. Lava Man was also among the fastest horses of last decade, recording nine triple digit BSF, eight of them being over 100, two being on turf, and his highest being a scorching 120.

Now for the lesser known facts that help his case. I already note above that Lava Man is the only horse to have ever won a grade one over all three surface types, but with his wins in the 2006 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap and the Santa Anita Handicap, he became the first horse since 1985 to win a grade one on turf and dirt in the same year. After winning the Hollywood Gold Cup he became the first horse since 1979 to take the Big Cap and Gold Cup in the same year and the first since 1978 to take the Whittingham and Gold Cup in the same year.

When looking back upon his versatility, his brilliance, and his heart there can be no denying this horse's greatness. It is a crying shame that his inability to show up outside of California has underscored his greatness so much throughout the years that he is not even considered, by many, to be in the top 10 horses to race last decade. Lava Man was in a class by himself and his list of accomplishments speaks for itself. He was the best to race in Californina last decade, nobody else. Lava Man is the King of California.


comments powered by Disqus

Older Comments about Lava Man...King of California...

Dubby…………sorry I took so long to get back to you, but your feelings towards horses caught me be surprise and I’ve spent the morning crying. I think I can hold myself together to respond to you………..My response regarding Rachel is simply because you denigrate everything that Zenyatta has ever accomplished. Actually your long winded BS in denigrating Zenyatta and praising Rachel has probably turned a lot of people off towards Rachel…………….JMO, but probably shared by legions of others………..There is no doubt that Lava Man had a great career in terms of winning important races, even though he beat up on what you always call weak Cali G1 competition and couldn’t win outside the State. But the term is best of the decade and how can you call a horse that has lost numerous times to claimers, lost 25 races within the State, raced within the State 42 times, winning 17 or 40%, and didn’t even win the most G1 races within the State during that time…………..Zenyatta is the obvious choice because she won two BC races within the state, more G1 wins and never lost there. If you don’t fancy Zenyatta, then Azeri is the obvious choice. Both were HOY winners.
Dubby, By me? I just love fast horses--a personal choice of mine. Have a great weekend, See ya around.
What is the meaning of all of the references to fast horses?
LDP, I loved Lava Man and I remember his third Hollywood Gold Cup win! I loved the way he really dug in to win. He makes a great King to go along with the Queen, even though they'll have to just be friends. I see you watched War Emblem when you started off following horse racing. Here's to fast horse--there are some running this weekend in the Suburban and the Triple Bend. Have a Happy Independence Day all!
Lavaman career includes winning the 05,06 & 07 HWGC, a race Zen's connections never even thought to enter. the SA Handicap in 06 & 07. the CW in 06 the Pac Classic in 06 and the Goodwood in 06. There are 8 wins there that are considered of national significance. Zenyatta has 2 wins of national significance. If i'm not mistaken, if I am wrong please correct me, but the vanity, CL hirsch, milady and LS are not open Grade 1 races seen as nationally affecting the racing scene. It doesnt affect the racing scene in California even. It would be amazing if there was a league say the NFL that were to say since you won the super bowl in 2009, we're going to allow you to play the weakest teams over and over again, and if you can beat the Buffalo Bills a number of times over and over again during the season you get an easy pass to the Super Bowl again to face the best who have been playing the Patriots and Colts and to tier teams in the NFL week after week. Who is going to be tired and who fresh. Sad that you dont recognize that, you've been duped by the smoke and mirrors of Team Mossy.
Laz do you know what the term Deflect mean. Its defined as turning away, or changing direction after hitting something. It seems that you Laz have hit a brick wall and instead of building up Zenyatta you're trying to tear down Lavaman the actual subject of a beautifully written piece, and also Rachel Alexandra who I am sure you are very bitter about Zenyatta losing the HOY head to head to the best horse running in 2009. I supposed if Lavaman had continued to run in claiming ranks that you'd have an issue or beef but the truth is, he elevated his game to levels never seen by Zenyatta in trotting her way to 19 straight wins against 2 legit fields of horses, those being the 2009 BC and the 2008 LC. Sadly you hang your defending of the regional champion mare to those two races, why, well there's nothing else to talk about. Unless of course you want to tell us about how great she was in defeating her Stable Mate whose connections were sporting enough to try their mare mid year in the Top race in California. What does that tell us about Zenyatta's ability that they didnt have the confidence to run her against the best mid to late year. Well her 6f works in 1:15 tell me that they either couldnt or wouldnt bring her to peak form to take on a legit field mid year because she would need 90 days off for rest due to the way she was slow to recover from a 3 hour plane ride to Arkansas.
Yep..............Hollywood Park is the closest of the synthetic tracks to dirt. However, the BC was contested at Santa Anita which was a little different.
Undefeated on synthetics? You mean that single race as a 2 year-old at Keeneland? I think it's safe to say there's a difference from Hollywood Park and Keeneland are two very different racetracks.
Dubby…………..I’m certainly not referring to the fake Lady’s Secret that Monmouth put together for Rachel, the same Rachel that was undefeated on synthetics and yet JJ was afraid to enter her alongside Zenyatta when Zenyatta took on the men, real men……..Lava Man was a star and everybody loved him, but he lost something like 25 races in California. The best horse of the decade in California does not loose 25 races in that state………..You say that Zen had easier races than Lava Man in California. I would think that she could win any maiden claiming race, first level allowance race and unlisted stakes race that they could have thrown her way, all of which Lava man lost multiple times……..Regarding Summer Bird, the only time I saw him lackluster was in the Haskell. He was running his favorite distance in the BCC and got the 10F in 2.01.2, which I don’t think is lackluster. He just happened to run into a true superstar........for the comment that Brooklyn Steve said about Lava Man running in races such as the HGC, etc. and Zen skipped them. First of all she was a filly. Unlike Rachel who was fully extended in the toughest race of her career by Macho Again, Zen won a BC C which Lava Man couldn’t do, and she ran a close 2nd in a BCC at CD while Lava man finished 15 lengths back in his BCC race at CD.
Just the fact that Lava Man raced in the Malibu, Pac Classic, Hollywood Gold Cup, Californian, Sunshine Millions, Big cap, Whittingham, Goodwood, etc, while Zenyatta was kept away from those races in order to protect her streak is reason enough this is not debatable. Lava Man took on all comers on all 3 surfaces. He will go down as one of the greatest Cali horses ever.
Dubby................even you must know what LMAO means.........just add really in front of it.
The names of the horses lava man beat nothing if they weren't in their primes when they raced against him. You make it seem like he defeated so many great horses, but was it when they were at their best? no. try again. and you can't really call him "the classier horse because he faced Grade 1 winning horses all year long." you can make the argument that his owners were classier based off of that fact, but not that he was. unless of course you've heard of the horses deciding which races they want to run in.
Sad to say you are right Laz, unfortunately for the 3 year olds they are tested against the best available and have to run hard and extend themselves most times out in legit G1 quality races. Remember most horses dont have the option of facing Hot N Dusty and Made for Magic and Pretty Katherine and the oh so talented Gambler's Justice in the majority of their races. Look at Curlin, win or lose, horses on his resume include: Street Sense, Hard Spun, Red Rocks, Vermillion, Better Talk Now, Henrythenavigator, Raven's Pass, Lawyer Ron, Political Force, Any Given Saturday, Einstein, Go Between, Duke of Marmalade, and DWc winners Well Armed and Gloria De Campeao. These horse are legit 10 furlong horses that were tough as nails. Curlin doesnt have a number of optional claimers on his resume or else he would have went 16/16 also. He took down one of the most talented Classics we've seen, none of the horses running in that classic were 1/5 on dirt with a Grade 3 victory, there was quality to be seen.
I think we all know that Zenyatta ran in some races that were short on talent, even for G1 races (where have we seen that before? Of course only for Zenyatta). However, when she had to be the best she really was the best. She dusted Ginger Punch, the reigning filly champ in the Apple Blossom in her fourth LT start having a 16L turnaround with that one alone in the final quarter of a mile. She ran in three BC races, winning a Distaff and a Classic and then beating herself in another Classic. How many horses can say that they ran in three BC races? Curlin can’t, neither can Rachel, Blame, Quality Road……the list goes on. In this day and age when three year old colts can’t even race into July of their three year old year she had a career that was remarkable in terms of racing from 3 to 6 and this was because how her connections handled her. She wasn’t burnt out after on tough race like Rachel. She raced on. She was undefeated in California in 17 starts there. Some might say some of her races were life and death against mediocre and/or against slower, but the fact is she was always at the mercy of the pace and in every race always finished the strongest and fastest of every horse she ever faced.
Laz what is RLMAO? Might want to take a refersher on internet slang.
LOL you said "but i dont see where lava man was facing anyone better than who she faced in her career" are you serious. Lavaman faced "Borrego, Perfect Drift, Surf Cat, Invasor, Bernardini, premium tap, George Washington, Lawyer Ron, Sun King, Flower Alley, Brother Derek, Awesome Gem, Student Council, Arson Squad, Albertus Maximus, Artiste Royal, Champs Elysees. those are just the horses listed at HRN that he faced who were Grade 1 quality. And here is the difference, he's the classier horse because he faced Grade 1 winning horses all year long, over and over again and was consistent at 10f. She faced mediocre fillies and mares still eligible for nw/2 races the majority of her career eeking out victories over these horses with slow times and is compared to a true tested champion like Lavaman. Lavaman actually ran in and won the top races in Cali, Zenyattas people ducked everyone of them but want respect for running in Gender restricted races. And she wasnt facing true 10f horses when she could have stepped up, they would have never run her in the Classic against Invasor and Bernardini and Lavaman.
And when you reference the ultra tough BC field are you referring to her beating Gio Ponti who has a Grade 3 win and 5 loses on synthetics, off the board finishes. He showed his affinity for Synthetics and his talent on the surface while finishing 5th behind those top class horses named Blue Exit and Victory Pete, Madeo and Dixie Chatter. Amazing that you would validate the BC field by means of that back class huh, or what about the ultra talented (on dirt that is) Summer Bird who was so lack luster on the surface that his owners shipped him away from John Sadler to Tim Ice out in La. SB worked 7 times at SA and was awful and transferred out of state and off the synthetics. So please show your great handicapping wisdom by trying to solidify her career of 1 or 2 races out of 20. I am still waiting for you to talk about the great races of national significance that she won outside of the BC. lol
Lava Man for sure won the more prestigious california races thats for sure.
What i mean, dubby, is that if your gonna knock on zenyatta for her competition, how can you praise lava man so highly? lava man is a great horse; no doubt. however, lets look at them both equally here instead of trying to just tear apart zenyatta. in your mind vs heart debate, whether you admit it or not, zenyatta has an amazing resume. could she have faced tougher competition at times? sure. but i dont see where lava man was facing anyone better than who she faced in her career. they're both great horses. in my opinion, zenyatta is just the better horse. if you think differently, thats fine. we both have facts to back up our argument and you're entitled to your opinion just as i am. just because we dont share the same opinion, that doesnt mean that either of us is stupid for what we think (not just feel).

Related Pages

      Connect With Laura
Me On Facebook
Follow Me On Twitter

Meet Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred Racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2001. After that point, she fell in love with the sport, reading every piece of news and information she could get her fingertips on.

Laura has a long history with horses in general, taking her first ride on her fifth birthday, with her first official riding lesson when she was eight years old. Both years she attended college she joined her school’s equestrian team, first at the now closed Virginia Intermont College, then again at Delaware State University. Unfortunately, after back and shoulder injuries, she had to hang up her saddle. 

In 2010 Laura came to Horse Racing Nation, but soon branched out to other media outlets, such as Lady and the Track, TwinSpires.com, and USRacing. She currently works at a local newspaper as a community reporter, while making a return to Horse Racing Nation, where she will once again feature her opinionated columns on the latest in horse racing. 

Related Stories

Top Stories