Kona Gold, 9, Tops New Year's Day El Conejo

Kona Gold will try to become the fifth 9-year-old to win a stakes race at Santa Anita when he takes on eight other sprinters in the $100,000 El Conejo Handicap (gr. III), Wednesday's New Year's Day feature.

The 22nd El Conejo, run at 5 ½ furlongs, is the shortest stakes race at Santa Anita.

Kona Gold will carry top weight of 123 pounds, spotting his opponents between six and 12 pounds, and will leave from the rail under regular rider Alex Solis.

He will try to join four other runners who won stakes here at nine. No horse older than that has won an added-money event at the Arcadia track.

The 9-year-old Santa Anita stakes winners are: Olhaverry, in the 1948 San Pasqual Handicap; Desert Chief III, in the 1965 San Marcos Handicap; Super Diamond, in the 1989 San Antonio Handicap (gr. I), and Softshoe Sure Shot, in the San Carlos Handicap (gr. II) in 1995.

Bruce Headley, who trained Softshoe Sure Shot, also trains Kona Gold, a winner of 13 of 26 career starts, including the 2000 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park.

In his most recent start, Kona Gold finished fourth in the 2002 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Arlington Park.

The Kentucky-bred gelding also won the El Conejo in 1999 and is seeking to become the third horse to win the race more than once. To B. Or Not captured the first two runnings, in 1981 and 1982, and Freespool won in 2000 and 2001.

Another member of the El Conejo field is Argentine-bred Avanzado, who gave trainer Doug O'Neill and jockey Tyler Baze their first stakes victory in New York when he won the Forest Hills Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park in November.

$100,000-added El Conejo Handicap (gr. III), 4 & up, 5 1/2 furlongs
PP. Horse, Rider, Weight
1. Kona Gold, 123 pounds, Alex Solis
2. Roman Dancer, 114, Kent Desormeaux
3. Radiata, 113. Pat Valenzuela
4. Giovanetti,111, Julie Krone
5. Our Magistrate, 111, Felipe Martinez
6. No Armistice, 114, David Flores
7. Avanzado, 117, Tyler Baze
8. Mellow Fellow, 115, Laffit Pincay Jr.
9. Hombre Rapido, 113, Jose Valdivia.

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