by Fran Jurga | 11 December 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog
On Saturday, American horseracing has a chance to welcome back one of its great heroes of recent years, the rags-to-riches California claimer Lava Man. The gelding is coming out of retirement to run in a stakes race and he's probably getting more press for his comeback than he did for winning more than $3 million in purses during his first career. You remember, the one he ran on his original legs.
That's right, Lava Man has been true to his California roots and he's been having some "work done". But it's not his nose or his chin or his thighs that were worked on, but his ankles. The gelding had his own bone marrow stem cells extracted and then injected into his lower limbs to help with some chronic wear-and-tear injuries.
The procedure was done at the lovely Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos, California. The clinic is in the Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara and is the sort of place most horses can only dream of seeing out their their windows when the vans brake to a stop.
Apparently some people are concerned that Lava Man is too old to race, or that the repaired ankles will backfire on him somehow. My guess is that if something backfires, it won't be the ankles. Racing is a young horse's game, but advances in veterinary medicine and sportsmedicine have allowed some senior campaigners to do very well in the sport lately--Commentator and Better Talk Now come to mind, not to mention Pepper's Pride.
Outside of racing, stem cell treatments are pretty standard for horses as old or older than Lava Man. Although every horse and every injury is different, stem cells are routinely injected into the injured legs of mature jumping horses who make comebacks. Consider the British National Hunt campaigner Knowhere, featured on this blog last year. At ten, he came back to jump racing after stem cell treatments on his bowed tendon and his first race was three miles, with 21 fences.
The British stem-cell technology firm VetCell studied 168 national hunt horses and identified that the re-injury rate, following stem cell therapy for superficial digital flexor tendon injury and return to full work, in the three years following treatment is 24 percent compared to 56 percent reported for horses that have undergone more traditional tendon treatment.
Horse racing stories doesn't usually make the New York Times in December, but Lava Man is in there today. The big races are over, the Breeders Cup is fading into a dreamy memory, but on a slow weekend on the slowest month of the racing year, here comes this great old gelding, back to the track to try again. His owners say they are doing it for racing, for his fans, and for him.
Maybe they should add that, if Lava Man succeeds, they are doing it for lots of other older horses that can be managed carefully and correctly into extended careers.
Video courtesy of www.alamopintado.com
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