January 24, 2003
By Michael Hammersly
Daily Racing Form
PHOENIX - Maybe it's just me being pigheaded; it's happened before.
I know fully what I'm doing when I take a shot against Kona Gold in Sunday's Grade 2 Palos Verdes at six furlongs at Santa Anita. Kona Gold is the great old man of his generation. Although his accomplishments can't be compared to those of other great geldings such as Kelso, Forego, and John Henry, Kona Gold is worthy of much respect.
This marvelous animal, now 9 years old, is a winner of 14 of 27 and $2.2 million, an Eclipse Award, and a Breeders' Cup Sprint championship. He has done what few horses do - stay at the upper echelon for several years. In fact, since his strong third in the BC Sprint at Churchill in 1998, he's been at or near the top of the sprint division, a remarkable achievement.
He's also one of my favorite horses, and it thrilled me to see him win the El Conejo again on New Year's Day. Despite breaking from post 1 and enduring a disadvantageous inside trip, he powered through the stretch and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. It was enjoyable to watch, even if my wallet would have benefited more had longshot Radiata managed to fend him off.
And it's my wallet, rather than my heart, that I'm going with here. That's because, good as he is, Kona Gold is likely to be somewhere around 6-5 on Sunday. I can cheer out of sentimentality if he wins, but I'm looking to cash a wager. So what are my options?
Well, I tried Radiata last time and he ran great to finish second. But that was the best chance he was going to get to beat Kona Gold. He couldn't do it, and he likely will be overbet here. Disturbingthepeace has beaten Kona Gold before. However, trainer Darrell Vienna has sounded hesitant about his horse's condition. Disturbingthepeace didn't fire in the BC Sprint at Arlington three months ago, and Vienna said Disturbingthepeace didn't care for the track. Vienna entered him in the Sunshine Millions Sprint on Saturday, but then said he would scratch the gelding and run him in the Palos Verdes.
"We were a little tight getting him ready; it gives me another day," he said.
If he's not quite ready for the Sunshine Millions, can one more day make him ready for Kona Gold?
Which brings us to Avanzado. Trainer Doug O'Neill is adding blinkers to the horse's equipment in an attempt to help him focus.
"He was kicking the back of stall when the gates opened, so we got left," O'Neill said of Avanzado's sixth-place finish in the El Conejo. "Basically, it cost him a couple lengths. We've added blinkers since and he's training really, really well."
A South American import, Avanzado made an immediate splash in the U.S. last summer. He won a strong optional claimer at Del Mar, then came right back to win the Pirate's Bounty there. He then shipped to Belmont and won the Grade 2 Forest Hills over some of the East's top sprinters, despite shifting out badly nearing the wire and almost running out from underneath rider Tyler Baze.
He finished seventh in the Grade 1 De Francis Dash at Laurel, but may not have cared for the very sloppy track. O'Neill freshened him up, and then ran him in the El Conejo, in which he was beaten four lengths.
O'Neill is hoping blinkers will result in Avanzado showing more of the speed that helped him fare so well last summer and early fall. With Radiata and Hombre Rapido sizzling early in the Palos Verdes, Avanzado can get a great trip stalking. Kona Gold seems a bit more sluggish early on than he used to be. Disturbingthepeace won't be far away, but others like Mellow Fellow, D'wildcat and Roman Dancer figure to come from behind Avanzado.
Jockey Baze can watch Radiata and Hombre Rapido set things up for Avanzado, who may get first run on the big closers at about 6-1.