BENSALEM, Pa. – Most thoroughbred race horses don’t have a personal coach traveling the country with them.
Then again, most thoroughbred race horses don’t have a Lava Man.
Hot Rod Charlie does. The 8-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby, has had a sidekick with him every step of the way since he arrived at Parx last weekend.
The 20-year-old Lava Man, a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is Hot Rod Charlie’s constant companion.
Whenever Charlie goes to the track, Lava Man goes with him. They are stalled next to each other at their barn on the backstretch. When Charlie eats, Lava Man eats. When one sleeps, so does the other. You get the idea.
On Lava Man’s saddlecloth the word “Coach” is embroidered.
“I can see Lava Man enjoying the hell out of this journey,” trainer Doug O’Neill said.
Lava Man, who has stable foreman Sabas Rivera on his back, is Hot Rod Charlie’s chaperone when he and exercise rider Johnny Garcia head out to train. When Charlie breaks off to gallop, Lava Man trots behind.
It is a calming influence for the 3-year-old, O’Neill says.
“I think these horses communicate in their own special way,” O’Neill said. “Lava Man gives a lot of confidence to Charlie, and you can never have too much confidence in these races.”
Lava Man was certainly no slouch in his racing career. He won 17 of his 47 career races, the success coming in California. He won the Hollywood Gold Cup three times and the Pacific Classic and Santa Anita Handicap twice each.
“What he did on the racetrack was awesome,” O’Neill said. “He did something that will never be compared to anything else I have ever had.”
In his new role – he has been Hot Rod Charlie’s shadow all year – Lava Man has thrived. Maybe he is the equine version of Benjamin Button.
“I really think he has lost a few years,” O’Neill, who also trained Lava Man, said. “It seems like he has gotten younger; he’s aging in reverse. I think Charlie has brought a new energy to him; Lava Man has always been one that loved being the focus. He likes the attention; he likes the action. Thanks to Charlie, he has been able to be part of a lot of cool post parades and a lot of cool days leading up to big races. This has been over the top cool.”
Parx Press Office
Photo: Pennsylvania Derby contender Hot Rod Charlie (L) with exercise rider Johnny Garcia and “Coach” Lava Man and Assistant Trainer Sabas Rivera jog on the track at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pennsylvania on Friday morning 9/24/21. Hot Rod Charlie is the morning line favorite for tomorrow’s (9/25) Grade 1 $1,000,000 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx racing on Saturday September 25th. Photo By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO