Hangin' With Haskin: Lava Man Revisited

In Sept. 2008, it was announced that Lava Man was going to be retired to Old Friends. It never happened. He had been turned out briefly on a small farm and all those around him stated emphatically that he hated it. The sedentary life wasn’t for him. He wanted and needed the action and excitement of the racetrack. He was returned to trainer Doug O’Neill’s barn, where he became a lead pony. After nearly four years working at his new job in relative quiet and tranquility, Lava Man, now finds himself caught up in the whirlwind of the Triple Crown. The cheers that accompany his star pupil, I’ll Have Another, are always within ear shot, and Lava Man has no reason to believe they are not meant for him.

In fact, many of the cheers now are meant for him, as evidenced by the ovation he received after the Preakness Stakes prior to I’ll Have Another’s return. He has had photos and stories plastered across the pages of publications all over the country, something he never even achieved during his magnificent career in California. He currently is a star on Youtube, where a laugh out loud video shows him walking the shedrow at Hollywood Park unattended and casually going over to a feed bin, opening it himself, and partaking in dinner. Watch the video here.

With Lava Man all the rage again, we thought this would be a good time to reprint a column we wrote back on Sept. 6, 2008, telling the story of one of the greatest claims in racing history, if not THE greatest.

Here then is the story of Lava Man.

June 19, 2003 was a warm, humid day in Stockton, California, with a brisk 20 mile-an-hour-wind. Those that attended the races at the San Joaquin Fair were there just for fun and certainly were not looking for any future superstars. The fourth race on the card, a $12,500 maiden claiming race for 2-year-olds, had no particular meaning, and you can bet no one paid any attention whatsoever to the fourth-place finisher – a 35-1 shot named Lava Man, who was racing for his owner, breeder, and trainer Lonnie Arterburn, along with several partners.

Following three more defeats, at Santa Rosa Fair and Bay Meadows, Lava Man finally broke his maiden by four lengths on the turf at Golden Gate under jockey Francisco Duran. Even then, the son of Slew City Slew had character and charisma, and made people notice him.

“I felt he was a special horse in his own way,” Duran said. “He was an incredible horse to ride, and he had a special demeanor about him. He also had a wonderful attitude toward everything he did. We all thought he was a good horse, but obviously we had no idea how far up the ladder he was going to climb. I don’t know how to explain how he got this good, but he’s evolved into an amazing horse.”

Lava Man followed up his maiden win with a starter allowance victory, but lost his next four starts before winning an allowance race on the grass at Bay Meadows by a nose. Arterburn had removed his blinkers for the race, and Lava Man showed tremendous courage to win after a stretch-long duel. It was that same tenacity and courage under fire that would enable to him to win back-to-back gut-wrenchers in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I).

On July 28, 2004, Lava Man was entered in a $62,500 claiming race on the grass at Del Mar. One person who had his eye on the horse was Steve Kenly, who wanted to claim him, but was talked out of it by his trainer Doug O’Neill.

“On the form and on the Sheets, I just felt $62,500 was too much money,” O’Neill said.

Kenly, who had been looking specifically for 3-year-old Cal-breds, because of the state’s lucrative program, had his eye on several horses and Lava Man was one of them.
“Doug said there were more negatives than positives, and I told him, ‘Well, let’s watch him,’ Kenly recalled. “He was coming from Bay Meadows, and for whatever reason, I decided to wait. I watched the race with interest anyway and took notes.”

Lava Man finished sixth in the race, but had a ton of trouble, getting squeezed and trapped between horses. Kenly remembered that and stored it in the back of his head in case the horse showed up again for a price.

Meanwhile, Arterburn hadn’t realized what kind of a bullet he had dodged. Would he tempt fate again?

“The Claim”

The answer, sadly for him, was yes. On August 13, Lava Man was back at Del Mar, this time for a $50,000 tag.

“I never should have run him back down there,” Arterburn said. “You go down to that claiming pit at Del Mar and you’re asking for trouble. They claim crazy down there, and I never should have taken him there. I really liked the horse. He had a great personality; almost a clown. He was like a big kid, always wanting attention. He was a one of a kind character, and we tried to protect him the best we could.”

Arterburn’s friend, veterinarian Kim Kuhlmann, who was co-owner and is co-breeder of Lava Man, was friends with trainer Mike Puype, so instead of shipping Lava Man back to Northern California, they decided to leave him with Puype at Hollywood Park and let him train down there for a couple of weeks. When a $50,000 claiming race showed up in the book, Puype told Arterburn about it. Arterburn had Puype enter the horse and saddle him in his absence. It was a decision he has regretted every day since.

“He had gotten beat for $62,500 and was 9-1 in that race,” Arterburn said. “The bettors there didn’t give him any respect, and I thought the trainers wouldn’t give him any respect either.”

He was right about the trainers, but didn’t count on an owner.

“I actually was seriously thinking about scratching him right before the race, because I started to feel afraid that we might lose the horse,” Arterburn said. “For some reason, I didn’t, and now I’m sick as a dog that I didn’t go by my gut and scratch him. We paid the price.”

Kenly, meanwhile, had been on the lookout for Lava Man, and was delighted to see him show up for $50,000. This time, there was no stopping him. When he saw him entered, he called O’Neill and told him, “Well, you just saved us $12,500.” As it turned out, Kenly’s was the only claim.

But O’Neill and his brother Dennis still were less than enamored with the horse. “Doug actually was even more negative than he was the first time,” Kenly recalled. “He just didn’t like the horse. His running line was bad, and Doug thought he might be unsound. But he had a horrible run, and it was a typical Del Mar turf race where horses get steadied and never get out. He was trapped in there the entire race.”

“The beauty of Steve is that when he gets locked in on a horse he goes after it,” O’Neill said. “He had seen all the trouble he had gotten into in his previous race. So, we felt as long as the horse looked good in the paddock we were going to claim him. Lonnie had him looking great, and we put in the claim. I definitely feel bad for him, because I’ve lost a few grade I horses myself and it does get to you. This can be a brutal game at times. There are a lot more disappointments and heartaches than there are high-fives.”

It was decided to point him for the Pomona Derby at Fairplex, and Lava Man won the Derby Trial by 6 1/4 lengths in his first start for his new connections. He then finished a well-beaten third in the Pomona Derby and proceeded to lose his next six races. But he did finish second in the California Cup Classic and On Trust Handicap for Cal-breds before finishing a game second to Rock Hard Ten in the grade I Malibu Stakes.

Just when it looked as if his career was about take off, he lost his form that winter, turning in three poor performances in state-bred stakes, including the aforementioned Sunshine Millions at Gulfstream.

Then it was O’Neill’s and Kenly's turn to flirt with destiny. Arterburn, still upset over losing the horse, waited patiently, hoping to see Lava Man back in for a price. He was determined to get the horse back. It took a year, but there he was, on May 14, 2005, entered for a $100,000 claiming price.

Unfortunately for Arterburn, he was in the process of moving to Florida in an attempt to upgrade his stock and was unable to come up with the money. It was that move that precipitated his putting Lava Man in for $50,000. And now it was that same move that prevented him from getting him back.

“I was in the middle of real estate deals trying to get a farm bought,” Arterburn said. “I couldn’t find any partners who were interested in claiming him for that price, and I couldn’t afford to claim him back myself. It was bad timing for me and good timing for them. It was ironic, in a bad way, that we let him slip through our fingers because at the time we were in the pursuit of getting better horses some day.

“After that, it all went rosy for them. When he started running so good, I said to myself, ‘That’s it, I’ll never see him again. Game over.”

As Lava Man developed into a grade I winner and then a legend, becoming the first horse to sweep the grade I Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic in the same year, Arterburn became more distressed over his misfortune. Now he’s had to watch Lava Man make more history by emulating Native Diver’s feat of winning three consecutive runnings of the Hollywood Gold Cup.

“It’s almost killed me,” he said. “It’s not even the money, because I earn breeders awards every time the horse runs. I would give all the money back if I could do everything over. It just tears me up, but what can I do? You hope for a horse like that some day, and there’s no way I’ll ever get something like that again. I’ve always been a claiming trainer and this has made me hate claiming. All I can do is keep trying, but it’s hard to swallow. That’s why I’ll be glad the day Lava Man retires, because it still hurts.”

Kenly had lucked out getting Lava Man, as all the forces seemed to be working in his favor. So, why in the world did he and O’Neill decide to tempt fate and put a grade I-placed horse in a claiming race, albeit for $100,000?

“Doug is a gambler and a pretty aggressive trainer when it comes to claiming races, and the horse had two bad outs and he thought he could get away with it,” Kenly said. “I was against it and just kind of went along with him. I remember telling him, ‘We can’t replace this horse for $100,000; no chance in hell.’ I stayed in Phoenix and watched the horse win in fast time with blinkers on, and was nervous as hell until I got a hold of Doug. I said, ‘Please tell me we didn’t lose him,’ and he said, ‘That (expletive) Hollendorfer.’ When he said that my stomach just fell out; I turned from a nice tan to white. Then he told me he was kidding. I said I’d get him back if it’s the last thing I do. He really got me with Hollendorfer, because he’s the kind of guy who would claim a horse like this. He’s famous for coming down from Northern California and taking high-priced claimers.”

So, that pretty much is the story of Lava Man and the contrasting fortunes of two men. Kenly, as well as his father, Wood, and O’Neill, gives thanks every day for the fortunes that smiled down on him. But, he still never takes anything for granted.

“In this game, the minute you start getting cocky and think you know it all, the racing gods will strike you down with a thundering blow,” Kenly said. “It’s been a fairy tale, and we’re living right in the middle of it. You have to ask, ‘Where is this book going to go?’ It’s been like a great novel already and you just hope it doesn’t end. You know it will some day, and when it does, you just have to say, ‘Look what he’s done for us. He’s put us in the spotlight; he can’t do any more.’ If it ended today, sure we’d be upset and depressed. It would be a sad day. But on the flip side, we’re so appreciative to have been involved with a horse like this. No matter what happens, it’s in the books, and you can never take that way. It’s history.”

Last fall, Kenly was looking for an appropriate slogan for Lava Man. He inadvertently came up with a perfect one when he said about owning a horse like this: “We’re having a blast.”

Lava Man never showed his greatness outside of California. For one reason or another he ran poorly in all his forays outside the Golden State. But he still was the king of California. He still was a racing treasure. He still was a legend. In short, he still was Lava Man. And that’s enough in anyone’s lifetime.


All Photos by Steve Haskin

Lava Man waits patiently for I'll Have Another

Lava Man is used to cameras and fans now

Lava Man always with his head out

I'll Have Another is not his only pupil

Lava Man in all his splendor

Lava Man always bright and alert


Leave a Comment:


Steve:  Boy, you are on a roll, this week!!!  Another great story about another great and charismatic horse!  Thanks so much!

Loved the video (who wouldn't??) !  Lava Man Rules!

23 May 2012 11:09 AM
Abigail Anderson

Steve! I'm so glad you reprinted this and I enjoyed it as much today as when you first published it. This is a riot because I was tempted to ask you to do this, since Lava Man is so clearly one of the great stories of I'll Have Another's campaign. And I just love these photos you took of him. Thank you so much!

23 May 2012 11:25 AM
Lise from Maine


This is a wonderful story about Lava Man not being happy off the race track and being returned to his trainer for greater things.

It is great that someone took notice of his unhappiness and helped him along to greater happiness.

Thank you for sharing this lovely story.

23 May 2012 11:28 AM
Ida Lee

Lava Man looks great. So alert and sharp and beautiful. I'm one of those people who were greatly disappointed that he did not come to Old Friends since I was going to see him there as soon as he arrived but I'm glad he's doing what's obviously making him happy. And that YouTube video I can watch all day...absolutely hilarious. Loved the photos, loved the article.

23 May 2012 11:30 AM
steve from st louis

Isn't a stable pony with a shadow roll kinda like me with wrist bands on while I watch the NBA on TV?

23 May 2012 11:31 AM
Karen in Indiana

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Steve!! I was so looking forward to seeing Lava Man at Old Friends and was so disappointed when that didn't happen. But seeing him doing such a good job ponying and how happy he looks, I'm glad for all of them. He did a great job with I'll Have Another going to the gate before the Preakness.

Also, I've been sending my son stories on Lava Man and his ankles to get him to consider stem cell therapy for his knee injury.

23 May 2012 11:32 AM
Rachel O


Thank you for this wonderful history of Lava Man. I used to look forward eagerly to hearing about his races. He is a very special horse, certainly, and he has obviously had a wonderful influence on I'll Have Another. He may be the best member of IHA's team!

It took a little time for the announcers to get around to talking about him on NBC at the Preakness, and I was pointing him out to my friends when he brought IHA out onto the track before anyone mentioned his name. He knows he's the star, and he almost bows to the fans.

Frankly, he was the most impressive-looking horse on the track that day, and there were some gorgeous horses out there.

I don't know who named him, but he could not have a better name, one that no fan will ever forget. He still sizzles!

Thank you again for writing about him.


23 May 2012 11:39 AM

nice read.  love these kind of stories.  thanks

23 May 2012 11:40 AM
Fran Loszynski

Steve that pic of Lava Man waiting for IHA is so awesome and touching. Yes, there's nothing like a best friend and I truly believe a racehorse runs well if he has a partner side by side that he likes. One word on the sale of MeadowLand I hope they keep Secretariat's birthplace intact and it remains a place to visit. Horses like Secretariat and Lava Man should never be forgotten and I'm glad to see Lava Man has a job that keeps him near a racetrack. I'm sure he's given IHA a few great tips especially how to handle the Belmont! Good Luck to all and a safe trip.

23 May 2012 11:45 AM

Let's not get carried away. The best claim ever made and never to be topped was Princequillo.

23 May 2012 11:53 AM
Fran Loszynski

One more note Steve to Lava Man.

---Whisper to Mario he has to know when to bring IHA up to kick in, Johnny V. is riding behind him. IHA will deliver but I believe this race is going to be determined by Mario's smarts, WHEN  to say to IHA- NOW! He will make the decision when it comes right down to it and IHA because he loves him will deliver. Lava Man tell IHA about Johnny V.

23 May 2012 12:05 PM

Hey!! steve! I'm finally logged in!!! So now i can leave comments to your always awesome blogs!!!  Just want to say you people at bloodhorse are the best!!!

23 May 2012 12:30 PM

Loved!!! This article by the way! That video is hysterical!!! He looks like he's still a racer!

23 May 2012 12:31 PM
Sandy McDonald

Thanks Steve for the wonderful story about Lava Man. Maybe others will put their retired stars or less known competitors in a position to be useful and enjoy their lives instead of throwing them away to unknown fates or even death. Thanks again. Sandy in California

23 May 2012 12:43 PM

Watching the Derby on TV I stood up and screamed,"there's Lava Man!" My husband wanted to know who he was. He will enjoy reading this. It''s great writing like this that has helped win  my husband of 19 years over to horse racing. We are having a blast this year and seeing a former champion walk himself to the feed bucket is priceless!!!

23 May 2012 12:56 PM
Linda in Texas

Funny how things have a way of going full circle. Back then Doug O'Neill told the prospective buyer, too much, don't bid him.

Then Doug O'Neill ends up with him as his star pupil's best bud.

Little blurps of behind the scenes tidbits still coming to the surface. You always find them and tune us in.

And as i look at Lava Man looking

dejectedly left behind or really wanting out of his stall, the initials D O reminded me of DO. Yep, just Do It I'll Have Another

and Team O'Neill.

Love the older articles, shows me you never change except to get better! Thank you.

23 May 2012 1:07 PM

Thanks again, Steve, for your wonderful perspective on the racing world and its athletes. I think many of us are waiting for your book, complete with photos! It's good to hear that people listened to Lava Man when he told them he did not want to be retired. He clearly looks quite happy and pleased with himself.

23 May 2012 1:14 PM

It's amazing how much people have forgotten or never knew about Lava Man until now.

It's completely incorrect to say that he's been working as a pony for four years. Did you look up his race record? He made a failed racing comeback at the very end of 2009, so has only been ponying for about TWO years.

And how can you say he never had photos and stories about him during his racing career? He had hundreds or more.

Since he first got into the swing of ponying TWO YEARS AGO, several publications, including your own Blood-Horse, have had nice stories on it. (Tracy Gantz's story in May 2010 - www.bloodhorse.com/.../lava-man-settles-into-role-as-stable-pony)

But the way everyone's been fawning over him now, it's like he'd been frozen in ice until April. I feel like I was the only one who paid any attention.

23 May 2012 1:18 PM

So I PVR'd the telecast of the Preakness but saw the race at the cottage on my IPad anyways.

Then I braved the drive home and went through 1 1/2 hours of fluff just to watch the post parade to see Lava Man.

He thought HE was in the race.

Wonderful horse.  (Good connections too, giving him a job at his advanced age)

I am looking forward to Belmont.  If IHA wins, might they consider having Lava Man pony IHA to the Winner's Circle?  

23 May 2012 1:22 PM
Love 'em all

Who's having a blast now?  "We're having a blast" thanks to Steve Haskin ... and Lava Man.

I've loved LM for several years now, and was always so thankful to his connections for caring for 'the old man' as well as they have all this time.  He's a very happy horse, and who could possibly ask for more?  

What a team those two make ... LM and IHA.  What a story for all their fans to share with others.

Another big thanks to you, Mr. Haskin.

23 May 2012 3:17 PM
Rachel NH

California or not, I think he's still the only horse here in NA to have won Grade 1's on all 3 surfaces...

PS the video made even my husband laugh!

23 May 2012 3:35 PM

AND... for another Hastings Racecourse connection, one of the local owners from Hastings had put a claim in on Lava Man that day but got out-shook for him.

23 May 2012 3:43 PM
Paula Higgins

Stev, this was wonderful, once again! What a character he is! The video is a hoot. I am so glad he is living a life that makes him happy. I feel so bad for the man who lost him. It sounds like he appreciated him not just for his wins, but for his personality too. Nice to see.

23 May 2012 4:04 PM

Great story about our California racing king, Lava Man.  He looks terrific and is such a great buddy to IHA.  Gives him lots of racing tips.... Thank you for the previously published story about Lava Man.  The video.... Priceless.

23 May 2012 4:30 PM
Linda in Texas

pardon us greyhorse. Not every one

remembers him after he retired the first time, he was put out to pasture and someone thought better of it and brought him out of hiding to race again. He did not do well. I remember that day well. But i refuse to say that i was the only one that paid attention.

Wow. Cheer up.

And sorry if it bothers you that some of us are kinda attached to him. Most of us read anything we can when it has to do with horses still around to be talked about at the age of 11. Most of us know he has not been ponying for 4 years,

he was in training for some of the time in the last 4 years.

Steve, don't post this if you find my answer offensive. Just hit a nerve. I wonder if draynay has changed his moniker and has come back as greyhorse.

23 May 2012 5:09 PM

Thank you Steve for the update and reprise of his story.  After reading your story I looked up at my framed photo of the finish of his 3rd Gold Cup above my desk and smiled.  He is the greatest claim ever and still an icon in California.  It is so nice to see him active and to catch the occasional glimpse of him on the track leading the youngsters.

23 May 2012 5:12 PM
Lisa McMahon

Great story! Great job, Steve, as usual. Racing NEEDS more "positive" stories like this. Thank you!  LAVA MAN Rocks!!

23 May 2012 6:17 PM

I loved Lava Man during his glory years on the track and often heard him referred to as the "greatest claim of all time" but never knew the whole story before now.  Thanks for that!

Loved the link to the YouTube video.  I got such a kick out of him getting in the feed tub, leaving after a couple of big mouthfuls then coming back to the tub as if to say "I'll Have Another".

23 May 2012 7:06 PM

Hi Steve,

I didn't read this the first go round...and enjoyed it very much.  That video is a hoot!  I'll have another...and another and another!

I think it's great that the geldings can still stay "in the action" after their racing careers.

Funny Cide ponied also.

PS...re best claim ever...I vote for Stymie at $1,500 with a net of $900,000+ in 1940's dollars.  I won't claim he was better at stud than Princequillo.

23 May 2012 7:28 PM

It is great to see Lava Man still doing what he was bred to do:  the horse racing game.  I remember when they tried to bring him back to run....it wasn't my business, but I didn't agree with that and was praying that nothing bad would happen to the horse!!  Glad to see him living happily ever after, as your pix demonstrate!

I always felt sorry for Lonnie Arterburn...could you give an update about what he is doing today?  Does he have any Lava siblings?


23 May 2012 8:19 PM
Jane Gordineer

I enjoyed reading this.  I always liked Lava Man....  When I knew he was racing I would always bet on him. Did not know much about him but I know he is a special horse.  Going to the Belmont Stakes, cant wait to see him there!

23 May 2012 8:26 PM
Irish Punter


In my haste I posted in your May 14th Blog instead of todays.

Please Post in Today's. Tx.

23 May 2012 9:07 PM
Lexington Bloodstock

Haskins...The Blood Horse is lucky to have you.  

Why is there such a scarcity of great racing stories like this in the main stream press and so many negative ones?  Because so few people have the knowledge and writing ability.  

Keep it up...please.

dpromano@gmail.com  Dino Romano

23 May 2012 9:15 PM
Irish Punter

Catching up with your blogs after being away for a long weekend.You just keep getting better and better,  

No one, but no one,

can capture the beauty, traditions and excitement of The Triple Crown like you.

Finally I found a blogger that helps do some justice to your posts.----

"Steve, your words convey a thousand pictures and your pictures a thousand words. Well done."

(Steve from St Louis 22 May 2012 11:05 AM )

Re your picture "I'll Have Another---the morning after." His eyes are saying "So this is that Haskin guy that got all this Triple Crown excitement started!" and his ears are saying "This guys O.K"

P.S Just got delivery of"Horse Racing's Holy Grail----The Epic Quest For The Kentucky Derby" by Steve Haskin from Amazon (misplaced my original)and your"Tales from the Triple Crown" is due Friday.

On Team Haskin Triple Crown Trail and it just keeps getting better

23 May 2012 10:23 PM
Dr Drunkinbum


  Same here. I was scared to death when they unretired him for that final race. A sigh of relief when he was OK. Lava Man won seven in a row, then lost in the BC Classic in 2006, then won two more right after that, 8 of 9, most of them Grade One's. Ironically, Lava Man finished ahead of Flower Alley, the sire of I'll Have Another in that 2006 BC Classic. The great Lava Man didn't fare well outside of California when he was racing but he's making up for it now, as one hell of a travelin' man lead pony. That confidence he is exuding out there on the track now has to be rubbing off on I'll Have Another. Have you ever seen a more confident trio than Lava Man, Super Mario, and I'll Have Another? Another fabulous article by Mr. Haskin. The 2006 BC Classic was Invasor over Bernardini, and also the year of Barbaro's injury. I do believe that Barbaro would have also won Grade One's on all surfaces to match Lava Man. Well, the buzzer is going off so I have to get the cookies out of the oven. When it comes to Triple Crown's, I'll have another please. If you don't mind. I don't care if it's a heart pounding, gut wrenching win like Affirmed, or the tearful annihilation type like Secretariat's. Just get it done baby. I often think of the words of the immortal Bloodhorse blogger, "Slew"- "I just want to see another Triple Crown before I kick the bucket."

23 May 2012 10:48 PM

Great to take the ride down memory land on the great Lava Man, Thank you Steve

Linda in Texas, thank you so much for what you said to Greyhorse.

He has not been fawned over since April.  Everyone has known  he has been a stable pony for quite a while.

Who cares of he has on his shadow roll, maybe he prefers it!!!!!!!  Horses do see shadows retired or NOT! Good Grief, let Lava be and have his own personality.  He is doing it all just fine.

He may not ever have won outside of Cali. So what, he had nothing to prove. He is a beautiful animal and we are lucky to have him in our lifetime. Please see that folks!!!

23 May 2012 11:03 PM

I love Lava Man. Much of the excitement with the TC races have been seeing him . I really think he is mentoring IHA!!!

23 May 2012 11:07 PM
Barbara W

What a beautiful story about a beautiful horse! Hope to get to meet him someday.Thank you for posting this.

23 May 2012 11:24 PM

  Many comments in this blog praise and bash Beyer #s. I have stated, some seem a little less reliable from changes to different surface, re Dirt , Artificial, and Grass, etc. Although, …”Beyers are an objective measurement of a horse’s speed in relation to the speed of the surface.“ …on a given day !!! at a certain track, all thusly calculated. … Or, when a horse runs some phenomenal time unheard for it’s age, etc., and where in this new era we can not add for the fact steroids and drugs aren’t in use, etc.,--which are factors unaccounted for in the greater formula when adding in years past times to average with currently run times to get the horses ‘AVERAGE BEYER #’ always shown in the program, which likely only makes a marginal differences.--But, technically Beyer #s are based on a ‘track variant formula’, which is all most confusing to the average ‘Joe’. Yet, then again, YOU don’t have to figure it up, they do it for you !!! Overall, it is a handy aid. However, a horse running with rising Beyer numbers and higher Beyer #s over greater distances are better that just a high flat Beyer # of say a 124 at say 4 ½ furlongs. Anyhow, for any who might have missed it, and are still confused by Beyers #s, whether you do slightly or don’t rely on them, here is a quote from the DRF.

 “This is Beyer Speed Figures 101, the remedial course. …

  We here at Beyer Central needed to spend some time explaining the fundamentals of [the] making [of Beyer] figures because there were many misconceptions.

  The figures are not, as was suggested by some of the comments, subjective. This is science not art. It is based on mathematics. A figure is not a performance rating; it is a speed figure. It is not an opinion. There is no bias. The numbers are the numbers. [ !!! ]

  Essentially, figure makers want to know how fast a horse ran in relation to the speed of the track he ran on. Surface speeds change day to day, depending on weather, maintenance, and many other factors.

  Think of it this way. You have two human runners of equal ability in a race. They run side by side, one on sand, the other on concrete. Obviously, the runner on concrete is going to win every time.

  If all track surfaces were uniform, final times would be sufficient to tell us with horse is faster. But they are not.

Andrew Beyer’s classic mid-1970s book “Picking Winners” explained the methodology behind the figures and explained the unexplainable to many players, including me. The raw times of races were converted to numbers to make the calculations less cumbersome.

  The “eureka!’’ moment for Beyer was when Harvard classmate Sheldon Kovitz explained what now seems obvious – a fraction of a second is more significant in a shorter race than a longer race. That led to the creation of accurate parallel time charts that are able to relate times at different distances.

  A runner, who finishes a second slower than the 100-meter record, is pretty good. A runner, who is a second slower than the 1,500-meter record, is a superstar.

  If you want to learn more about parallel time charts, read “Picking Winners’’ or “Beyer on Speed.” The charts are the underpinnings for accurate speed figures.

  We take all the times on a specific race card and go through them race by race. Back in the day, it was all done on paper. Now, we have a chart-like computerized printout that shows the last five Beyers for each horse in a race, in addition to that race’s par time, what that class of horses has traditionally done over a period of time.

  Then, we note the difference between what was expected (par times, recent Beyers) and the reality. For each race, we assign a difference. Then, we average those differences over an entire card and assign a variant. We take the variant and either add (if the times were slower than expected) or subtract (if the times were faster than expected) from the raw times for each race. Then, we have a Beyer figure for each race on every card in America.

Seems there were a lot of questions about the Beyer assigned to I’ll Have Another in the Derby. Let’s go over the card.

  The times were very fast all day. The second race was for maiden special weights going 6 furlongs. The time was 1:10.06 which equates to a raw figure of 106. The par time for that group of horses at Churchill Downs is 83. Combine that with what this lightly raced group had done in the past and you might expect them to run about an 80. So let’s call it a difference of 25 points or 2.3 seconds at 6 furlongs.

  Shackleford won the seventh race, going 7 furlongs in 1:21.06, a raw figure of 131. He had gotten a 106 in his previous start, again a difference of 25 points.

  Groupie Doll set a 7-furlong track record in the ninth race, getting the distance in 1:20.44, a raw figure of 140. She won by 7 1/4 lengths. Combine the margin with the time and it was pretty clear her race was exceptional.

The time for the Derby was 2:01.83, a raw figure of 129. It was obvious Bodemeister was slowing down in that final quarter so you could not evaluate the final time off his 108 in the Arkansas Derby, 220 yards shorter than the Derby. So Beyer, who does the Churchill figs himself, looked at what the other four horses in the top five had done in recent races and looked at the Derby through that lens.

  When he took all the dirt times and their differences through the entire day, he determined the variant was -28. Which gave Groupie Doll a 112 and I’ll Have Another a 101, five points better than his previous Best Beyer.

One commenter wondered how I’ll Have Another, who ran the mile and a quarter in 2:01.83, could get a 101 while Smarty Jones (2004) ran the distance in 2:04.06 and got a 107. Now, you should know, but just so it is clear, the times on that sloppy track in 2004 were much slower than 2012. The track variant was a -4. Smarty’s time equated to a raw figure of 111. Thus, he got a 107.

  The Pimlico surface last Saturday was much slower than the surface at Churchill. So even though I’ll Have Another’s actual time (1:55.94 for a mile and three-sixteenths) equaled a raw figure of just 110, he got a 109 Beyer because the variant was a -1.

  Here is another way to look at I’ll Have Another. He beat Creative Cause by a nose in the Santa Anita Derby and got a 96. He beat Creative Cause by 3 lengths in the Derby and got a 101. He beat Creative Cause by 9 lengths in the Preakness and got a 109. Creative Cause is running the same race. His last three Beyers are 95, 97 and 96. I’ll Have Another is just getting faster.

  The tipoff on the big Preakness Beyer was the margin from second to third. Bodemeister ran back to his Arkansas Derby and I’ll Have Another ran him down anyway.

  Some comments suggested the figmakers make decisions based on personal preference. Hopefully, this lesson clears that up as well.

  There was much consternation over the great Zenyatta’s figures. Hers were calculated in the same manner. She was the proverbial horse who ran just fast enough to win. She got a 95 when she beat Rinterval by a neck in the 2010 Clement Hirsch. Does anybody think Rinterval was suddenly going to get a 110 just because she was running against Zenyatta? The data said 95 so it was a 95.

  When Zenyatta had to run really fast to win the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic, she ran really fast, getting a 112. When she almost caught Blame in 2010, she got a 111.

  Again, the Beyers are an objective measurement of a horse’s speed in relation to the speed of the surface. They are a way to evaluate what horses have done in the past and decide how that relates to what they might do in the future. We constantly update our data base, accounting for changes in surfaces, sometimes changing the parallel time charts and par times, occasionally going back over particularly difficult days and races when more data is available. The fundamentals, however, never change.”

24 May 2012 3:05 AM

Super blog Steve. I really feel bad for Lonnie. In his place I probably would have jumped off a bridge after letting Lava Man get away.

24 May 2012 8:38 AM
Sue MacGray

Love this story Steve. What's funny is that when I saw I'll Have Another in the post parade for the Derby I said to myself "Wow, who's that beautiful lead pony! He's a looker!" I had no idea it was Lava Man :)

24 May 2012 9:05 AM

As an Australian who went to the Kentuckyn Derby last year and dropped in on Hollywood Park on the way home, I was unaware of Lava Man's deed but suspected them to be mighty as evidenced by his name multiplied on the wall as you enter HP. Now I know. Enjoyed your story Steve. Beautifully written. The most rewarding aspect of witnessing US racing live is that the fans are as fanatical as our own, abeit we show our enthusiasm in different styles  Racing downunder is a religion.  The Lord walks on four legs - on water.

24 May 2012 9:21 AM

Love this story of Lava Man-he has always been one of my favorites. I truly believe that LM does think that all of the applause and shouts at the track are for him, as well he should! So glad that his people realized that he needed a job after his racing days were done.  

24 May 2012 9:43 AM

I was happy when Lava Man was coming to Old Friends bcs I could finally see him and visit periodically. I live on the East Coast and Kentucky is within driving distance. However, I realize he is better off with a job to do. This way he will live a happier longer life and will always be in the spotlight. I just love Lava Man!!!!!

24 May 2012 10:08 AM
Dr Drunkinbum

The last Triple Crown winner was almost as long ago as when I bought my clock radio that still works as good as the day I bought it. I wonder if it will konk out if Lava Man and I'll Have Another win at Belmont? I'll make that trade.

24 May 2012 10:56 AM
Linda in Texas

zarvona, i know you mean well. But to me the explanation is as sloppy as a muddy track at CharlesTown.

In my twisted way of thinking, since i am a very sensical and practical thinker, the fundamentals DO change with every horse, track, weather conditions, amount of oats in a stomach and how much energy they produce and on and on, which bit, which jockey,

how the horse is feeling, unfamiliar track, noisey barn, people screaming, sore hock,loose shoe, those to me are the fundamentals and they are different with every race run at the same track each day.

I failed to mention Steve's reference of Stem Cell procedures on Lava Man. Those procedures of course are being used to fight cancer and all kinds of illnesses

with people also,i might add.

I am glad Lava Man's took!

Looking forwardly to finding out the other horses being considered to race in The Belmont.

I have read that in addition to I'll Have Another, Dullahan, Union Rags, that perhaps the following are being considered: Alpha, Paynter, Street Life, Unstopable U, Arousing Sermon, Optimizer, Guyana Star Dweej, Atigun, Five Sixteen and Stealcase. Someone asked earlier on Steve's blog which horses could be probables to run in The Belmont.

The list will aid you in doing research on them. As i plan to do shortly.

I will be looking at pedigrees not Beyer figures. Sorry zarvona. Maybe someday i will figure them out. Thanks Steve.

I think i will make some Butterscotch Cookies,which brand of scotch should i use Dr. D.? :)

24 May 2012 11:55 AM
Rachel O

Lava Man! Well, here's another example of one of those dang California horses in the spotlight!

He sure is an entertainer.

According to what a friend tells me, I understand that he doesn't much like carrots and finds them a bore. To keep him out of the food bins they put a bunch of carrots on top. Funny!

24 May 2012 12:03 PM
Irish Punter


I see you published the article on Beyer's Figures. It is very helpful but IMHO you should have given credit to Steve Jerardi from the Beyer Organisation who published this " The Science behind the Beyer Figures" in DRF  5/23/2012 @ 4:53PM (The time of your's is 5/24/2012 @3.05-some 10 hours after his Post in DRF.

If Beyer's figures are so scientific how can he change his # 2 months after the race @ la Creative Cause/ I'll Have Another before the  

Santa Anita Derby being upgraded to fit a particular scenario or story-line of Mr Beyers.

They are SUBJECTIVE despite what the article claims.In keeping with this scenario IHA recieved a 101 Beyer  Kentucky Derby # (2nd lowest in 20 years)This and the 95 in the Santa Anita Derby were grossly inaccurate and unfair to both horse and betting public.

Bris on the other hand which is computer based and thus OBJECTIVE gave IHA  a fig of 108 for the Derby which was more in line with his Preakness # and more fair to an improving horse running for the Triple Crown.

24 May 2012 12:47 PM

Thank you for all the pictures of one of my very favorite horses.  I have a photo of Lava Man hanging on the wall in my business, (a feed store) along with photos of  some of my other favorites, including Zenyatta, Tiz Now and Seattle Slew.

  I find it funny to hear people refer to Lava Man's "advanced age."  He is old only in the way a 22 year old female gymnast is old. Keep in mind, most horses live twenty to thirty years. In many other equestrian sports, he would be in his prime.

  With Lava Man being kept so fit and active, I am sure he will live a long, healthy, happy life!    

24 May 2012 2:42 PM
:46 Breezing

Another gem Mr. Haskin...great read as always.  

Lava Man's a dude and a half isn't he ?   Had a chance to attend the 2006 Breeders Cup and i can remember the tremendous buildup to the Classic...pitting Bernardini vs Lava Man.     LM trained like a bear that week.   O'Neill even had him clip over the turf one morning as i recall.    

LM stalked before flattening out in the lane and finishing 7th.    Bernardini rushed past the big horse like he was standing still.   Nevertheless...a feel good tale for a feel good horse.  

24 May 2012 3:45 PM
Shelby's Best Pal

When I read the title, I could hardly wait to read the story.  Lava Man is so special.    And he has a great story.  The story and the Youtube clip made my day!  Thank you.

24 May 2012 8:53 PM

Great article!!!  Lava Man has always been one of my favorites.  I'm glad he's still at the track and helping his brothers and sisters.  If anyone knows how to win Lava Man does, and I'm sure he's been talking alot to I'll Have Another.  And if the crown #12 is passed down, Lava Man should definitely be in the winner's circle.

24 May 2012 9:13 PM
Linda in Texas

Just now seeing on Bloodhorse.com that Dynaformer's last foal is a filly.

So his girls can carry on his name and his genes. RIP Dynaformer.

You won't be soon forgotten and you were truly a brave horse.


24 May 2012 9:59 PM
Smoking Baby

 Good morning Steve.  Thanks for another cool trip down memory lane.  I loved that year's Breeder's Cup telecast that began with the sun rising over the Stockton Fair.  I still remember working there as the flag man on the gate crew and hearing that Affirmed had been disqualified in the Travers.  It always seems about 10 degrees hotter in Stockton than at any of the other tracks on the fair circuit.  Plus you always hated the Stockton meet because in those days it meant the summer was coming to and end and you had to return to school.  Oh yes...back to my point.  In the You Tube video where he's loose in the shedrow he LOOKS like a racehorse and not a pony.  Someone walking by would think "loose horse!!!" instead of "Oh look, how adorable, the pony is stolling the shedrow."  I expected to see him maybe not fat but carrying more weight.  He looks like he's still in fighting shape.  LOVE IT.  Thank you Steve.

25 May 2012 10:16 AM
Betty S

I enjoyed this article so much and I really hope it will it encourage other owners to put some of the retired stars (the ones who would like to do it) to work.  We can see how great it is for Lava Man and IHA.  Obviously the fans love it, its wonderful for all involved.  He is one cool dude opening those food bins by himself.

25 May 2012 12:44 PM
Meydan Rocks

Sorry to be redundant if someone has posted this here already. Saw this on the "other" site and had to post it here under this relevant topic!

What an animal... GO LAVA MAN!


25 May 2012 1:56 PM
Pedigree Ann

:46 Flat, My nickname for Lava Man has always been 'The Lava Dude'. Being as how I am a registered Cal-bred (I have a number and a joke certificate from the registrar), I have always followed California racing, and Calbreds especially, more closely than many. Lava Man was always 'The Dude' to me.

Zarvona, can you explain something to me? You mentioned how one must compare times to pars for the track to compute speed figures. How did Beyer and all the others manage to create figures FROM THE VERY FIRST DAY OF RACING OVER A BRAND-NEW SURFACE? In the last 10 years, so many tracks have had new sufaces - Gulfstream, when they expanded the track to 9f; Keeneland, Turfway, and Woodbine, when they put in Poly; the California tracks, when mandated to put in a variety of AW surfaces. Indeed, Santa Anita hasn't had the same surface for two years in a row for several years. So how was it done without any par times for the new surfaces? This really confuses me.

25 May 2012 2:28 PM


Its out of discussion, but its really bothering me after hearing that New York stewards would not allow IHA to wear a nasal strip for his Belmont stakes. I am from New York and its really really pissing me off that these stupid stewards could not come up with a dumber idea at this particular moment for this horse and what is at stake. I want to hear your wise words on the issue steve. NYRA is already becoming "New York Ridiculous Association", and now the stewards follow their lead. Its so bizarre

25 May 2012 6:02 PM

Ooooh Steve, you've made me sooo happy!  I've always loved Lava Man.  I remember his first race back after his stem cell therapy.  He charged into the paddock prancing, and dragged 2 grooms along with him, while the jockey was barely given a chance to mount him, as he headed out to the track.  He led that race most of the time, and just flattened out in the final leg, finishing last.  I thought the race was a bit long for his first try...and was disappointed when they retired him again.  But he didn't really retire...just picked up a new career. To this day, I still see so much Slew in him...all spit and vinegar...and "look at me! I da MAN!"  

I've really never before seen a lead pony who needed a lead pony of his own.  Lava Man is still on fire, and I love seeing him, again and again and again.  It's on to the Belmont...and yes, Dr. D, I need a Triple Crown winner this year....AND I want Lava Man to be in the winner's circle with him.

As for Beyer's..Lava Man's career high is 120, better than any other horse prancing down the track with him.(Although I tend to see Beyer as subjective, and not as objective as claimed.)

Again...Thank you Steve, the photos are great, the story greater, the horse...unbelievably great.  

25 May 2012 6:59 PM

thank you mr. haskins, great story.

26 May 2012 1:58 AM
Splits of 12

Lava Man is a true legend. Wouldn't it be something to see his star pupil I'll Have Another win the Triple Crown. Lava Man would be re-writing history,in a special way. Not with three consecutive Hollywood Gold Cups, but with three consecutive Triple Crown races. I'll Have Another G1 please.  

27 May 2012 1:54 AM

So great to see Lava Man getting this attention, particularly from those outside of California that didn't get to see him at his best during his racing career.

For fans in California, Lava Man was the story of the 2000s until Zenyatta came along.  A dvd was made of Lava Man's story and passed out to Hollywood Park patrons as a promo, much like they did with Zenyatta later.  

In Caliornia, Lava Man was money.  I didn't live in California at that time, but visited every year, typically around Hollywood Gold Cup time, so I was lucky enough to see all 3 of his Gold Cup wins.  And I talked to friends in California who would go out and wager on him in the big races, and for a while he never disappointed.  

I have stated this before, but it bears repeating.  In the long and storied history of the Hollywood Gold Cup and Santa Anita Handicap, no horse achieved more than Lava Man; together, he won 5 of those races(3 Gold Cups and 2 Big Caps), while no other horse has won more than 3.  Add in a Pacific Classic, a Goodwood, a Whittingham, a Californian, a Sunshine Millions Classic + Turf, a 120 Beyer, grade 1 wins on all 3 surfaces, and the title as richest claim, and I don't see how Lava Man does not end up in the Hall of Fame.

His one weakness was that he couldn't ship, and that there wasn't a Breeder's Cup in California from 2004-2007.  I have no doubt he would have been much more difficult for Benardini and Invasor to run down at his home tracks.  But, to be a truly all-time great, a horse will most likely have to ship, and this one weakness prevented Lava Man from reaching the status nationally he had in California.

For fans in the East looking for a comparison that they are familiar with, think Slew O' Gold.  

For fans outside New York, Slew O' Gold was a really good horse that simply came up short in the 2 biggest races of his career, the Kentucky Derby(4th), and then in his final career race, the 84' Breeder's Cup Classic(finished 3rd, moved up to 2nd).  That Classic in particular stands out, because Slew O' Gold had been annointed by the Eastern establishment as the clear #1 horse on the continent, and the Classic, run at Hollywood Park, was going to be his coronation.  But it didn't work out that way as Slew O' Gold never could get by Wild Again and the 84' HoY went to the old man, John Henry.

The similarities between Lava Man and Slew O' Gold are striking to me.  Both won 7 grade 1 races in their careers.  Slew O' Gold dominated the Fall Championship Triple(Woodward-Marlboro Cup-Jockey Club Gold Cup) at Belmont like only the greats of the past had, winning the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup at 3 in 1983(was 2nd in a photo in the Marlboro that year) before then sweeping the three races the following year.  This is similar to a stretch Lava Man had from mid-2005 through mid-2007, when he won 6 of the 7 races in the "California Handicap Triple"(Big Cap-Gold Cup-Pacific Classic), taking the 05' Gold Cup, running 3rd in 05' Pacific Classic, sweeping all 3 in 06', then winning the 07' Big Cap and 07' Gold Cup).

All 7 of Slew O' Gold's grade 1 wins came in the state of New York while all 7 of Lava Man's grade 1s came in California.  And though Slew O' Gold didn't bomb when running outside of New York, he none the less was 0 for 5 in his career outside that state.

What's amazing to keep in mind is that Lava Man has still won more than twice the grade 1s and about twice the money as I'll Have Another.  However, I'll Have Another has proven himself a wonderful shipper, and that has enabled him to win the 3 biggest races of his career to date and brought him to the brink of history.

27 May 2012 5:19 AM
Mike Relva


You're joking right?

28 May 2012 12:08 PM

Great story , but my favorate horse of all time was the great cougar2 , trained by charlie whittingham

28 May 2012 2:27 PM

I think richard mandela diserves to be the trainer to train the next tripple crown winner , oneil and ill have another to not diserve to be in the history books , unless he wins the belmont..lol

I think hell get beat by a fresh horse rested by not running in thr preakness , ill be routing for union rags , his sire dixie union was great ans also trained by richard mandella

28 May 2012 2:33 PM
Mike Relva

Nice article on Lava Man.

30 May 2012 7:16 PM

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