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A GOLD(EN) CHANCE.

Byline: KEVIN MODESTI Horse Racing

ARCADIA - Among the runners in the Breeders' Cup prep races at Santa Anita this weekend are two horses with remote chances to overtake Point Given in the campaign to be Horse of the Year.

One is Tiznow, whose handlers hope to replicate their 2000 charge to the Horse of the Year title by winning the Goodwood Handicap here Sunday and the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park on Oct. 27.

The other - less obvious - is Kona Gold, who will try to win the Ancient Title Handicap for the second consecutive year Saturday on his way to a repeat attempt in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

No sprint specialist ever has been voted Horse of the Year. Tom Fool (1953), Dr. Fager (1968), Ack Ack (1971) and Forego (1974) were named champion sprinter and Horse of the Year in the same season, but each also won the handicap-division title that season - and Dr. Fager won the turf-division title as well.

Yet the thought of Kona Gold as a Horse of the Year contender doesn't sound crazy to Bruce Headley, his trainer and part-owner.

``If Lady Luck lets us win these next two races, I think we have a really good chance,'' Headley said Thursday morning at his Santa Anita barn. ``Everybody loves a winner and everybody loves consistency, especially in an older horse.''

Kona Gold can match any other horse on those counts. At age 7, the gelding purchased as a yearling for $35,000 won his seventh consecutive race and pushed his career earnings over $2 million when he beat Caller One by three-quarters of a length in the Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar last time out.

After Point Given, winner of the Preakness and Belmont stakes and three other Grade I stakes this season, was injured and retired in August, Kona Gold took over the No. 1 spot in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's weekly media poll, and he remains there. Kona Gold is the first sprinter, and the oldest horse, ever to top the rankings.

``It seems like it's what you do lately, not what you do early (in the season),'' Headley said, hoping that's the Horse of the Year voters' attitude this time.

Generally, sprinters are seen as one-dimensional equine athletes, and therefore poor Horse of the Year choices. They stick to the 6- to 7-furlong races because they've tried and failed to win the longer races that carry richer purses and prestige. I've written that naming a sprinter the Horse of the Year would be like naming a punter the Heisman Trophy winner.

Headley argues that this argument shouldn't apply to Kona Gold.

``He's a champion sprinter, and (so) I haven't seen a reason to move him beyond that,'' the trainer said, implying Kona Gold could go longer if asked.

Headley, 67, who rode quarterhorse races at Devonshire Downs in Northridge as a teen-ager, has a knack for keeping old sprinters at the top of their games. Softshoe Sure Shot was 9 when he won the 1995 San Carlos Handicap. Son of a Pistol was 8 when he won the 2000 San Carlos, making him the last horse to beat Kona Gold.

Headley gives the credit for Kona Gold's long career to good luck and to the gelding's strong bones and cooperative manner. The trainer said he wakes up at 3:30 every morning at his house near Santa Anita so he can gallop Kona Gold at 4:45 on the empty track.

``With his attitude and ability, he can go on for a while - if weight doesn't destroy him,'' he said in his office decorated with photos of winners dating back as far as a $2,200 race at Fairplex Park (then Pomona) on Sept. 29, 1959, when Thorium and jockey Irv Guiney Jr. gave Headley his first victory.

Headley refers to the career-high 127 pounds Kona Gold was assigned to carry in the 6-furlong Ancient Title. The $200,000 race drew a field of six in this post-position order: Swept Overboard, Eddie Delahoussaye riding, 116 pounds; Freespool, Isaias Enriquez, 117; Lexicon, Kent Desormeaux, 117; Forest Camp, Mike Smith, 115; I Love Silver, Laffit Pincay, 113, and Kona Gold, Alex Solis.

--The weekend: Tiznow, assigned 124 pounds and ridden by Chris McCarron, is expected to have five challengers in the $500,000 Goodwood: Skimming, Garrett Gomez, 123; Dixie Dot Com, David Flores, 118; Freedom Crest, Desormeaux, 115; Tribunal, Corey Nakatani, 115, and Dix for It, Solis, 114.

Out-of-town races with Breeders' Cup implications include four at Belmont Park on Saturday: the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Albert the Great Aptitude), Beldame Stakes (Flute, Spain, Beautiful Pleasure), Champagne (Officer) and Frizette (You, Cashier's Dream).

--How'd they think of that? Keeneland, which opens a three-week meet in Lexington, Ky., today, will offer not a pick-six but a pick-five.

The $2 wager, challenging fans to link the winners of races 4 to 8, will have no consolation payoff. The entire pool will carry over if nobody hits five.

In its announcement, Keeneland said a $1 pick-four will be held on races 6-9 ``in order to give bettors a chance to recoup if their pick-five goes awry early or press it up if their confidence abounds.'' Sounds like wise betting strategy.

OUT OF THE GATE

SANTA ANITA STANDINGS

Through Wednesday

Jockeys Wins

Alex Solis 10

David Flores 5

Corey Nakatani 5

Jose Valdivia Jr. 5

Laffit Pincay 4

Mike Smith 4

Kent Desormeaux 3

Garrett Gomez 3

Trainers Wins

Richard Mandella 4

10 tied 2

PINCAY WATCH

Laffit Pincay will ride Lazy Lode in Sunday's Oak Tree Mile. It's a race Pincay hasn't won since 1990 with Notorious Pleasure. Richard Mandella is training Lazy Lode and Redattore for the turf race that serves as a steppingstone to the Breeders' Cup Mile. Pincay's record career-victories total is up to 9,220.

ON THE STAKES SCHEDULE

Santa Anita

Saturday

--$200,000 Ancient Title Handicap, 3-year-olds and up, 6 furlongs

Sunday

--$500,000 Goodwood Handicap, 3-year-olds and up, 1 1/8 miles

--$250,000 Oak Tree Mile, 3-year-olds and up, 1 mile on turf

Monday

--$75,000 Henry P. Russell Handicap, 3-year-olds and up, 1 1/8 miles on turf

A WEEK AT THE RACES

Stats on the Oak Tree meet's first six days show which distances favor early-speed-type horses and which favor come-from-behinders. Speed is best at 5 1/2 and 6 furlongs (7 of 12 winners ran first or second all the way) and 1 1/16 miles (3 of 6 led gate to wire). Stretch kick is best at 6 1/2 and 7 furlongs (6 of 13 winners rallied from fifth or worse) and 1 mile-plus on turf (all 10 rallied from fourth or worse). ... Santa Anita will be open Monday (Columbus Day), first post 12:30 p.m. ... Bobby Frankel's recent big-money victories and Baffert's 0-for-15 start at Oak Tree only have dented Baffert's earnings lead among North American trainers. It's Baffert $14.3 million, Frankel $10.6 million. ... Baffert broke his slump when Turquoise Bead ($33.20) won Thursday's opener at Santa Anita. ... Jockey Tyler Baze begins a three-day suspension Sunday. ... A bonus pick-four Sunday will combine two stakes at Santa Anita (Goodwood, Oak Tree Mile) and two at Keeneland (Spinster, Turf Mile), with the associations pledging their commissions from the wagering pool to NTRA Charities' New York Heroes Fund. ``This is just another way of tying the country together and unifying the American spirit,'' Oak Tree vice president Sherwood Chillingworth said.

- Kevin Modesti

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 5, 2001
Words:1262
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