Trainer Bruce Headley has compiled an admirable record of success with older sprinters – Lakota Brave was seven when he won the 1996 Ancient Title, Son Of A Pistol was a stakes winner at eight and Soft Shoe Sureshot was winning stakes races at the advanced age of nine.Saturday will mark the fourth consecutive appearance for 7-year-old defending champion Kona Gold in the $200,000 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap as the Java Gold gelding gets his final test in advance of the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park Oct. 27.
Not only does Headley keep them running at a winning level late in their careers, he can spot a bargain when he sees one."My techniques are proving out, I guess, but you've got to have the horse," Headley said. "I bought every one of those horses. (Son Of A) Pistol only cost $23,000, Soft Shoe (Sureshot) was $60,000, Lakota (Brave) was $50,000. They all had the same characteristics, they just had a little different look to all of them. One was a little taller, one was a little longer, one was a little thicker but they all had the same dimensions."Headley picked up the Eclipse Award-winning Kona Gold for just $35,000 as a yearling. The gelded son of Java Gold has returned $2,009,944 on that investment by winning 12 of 20 starts, running first or second 18 times. "I have to love the looks of a horse and (Kona Gold) had all the dimensions," Headley explained. "He had a lot of depth, a lot of balance, a lot of elegance, great nostrils, good feet."And because that's all the money I had," he deadpanned about the bargain price.Headley has focused his efforts on purchasing and developing sprinters.
"You can rely on a speed body more than a distance body," Headley said. "They've got to look like something to be something, so that they have something to do something with. And if they don't have (stakes-winning ability), then they can still become nice little claiming horses."A field of six entered for the grade I Ancient Title, with Kona Gold drawing favorably into the outside gate. The probable odds-on favorite has been assigned to carry record high weight of 127 pounds in the six-furlong event, and will be conceding from 10 to 14 pounds. Headley had mentioned earlier in the year that he might skip the Ancient Title in favor of running back east. "There was a race in New York (the Forest Hills Oct. 7) but I decided to stay here," Headley said. "The (Ancient Title) was the springboard for his (Breeders' Cup) race last year. I didn't figure I'd better change anything. We'll be using the same recipe for success."
Saturday will also mark the seventh straight year that Headley has had an Ancient Title starter. Headley runners' reputations precede them, as six of the seven times they've been sent off as the Ancient Title post-time favoriteCurrently riding a seven-race winning streak, Kona Gold suffered his last loss (by a nose) 1 _1/2 years ago in the seven-furlong San Carlos Handicap to 8-year-old stablemate Son Of A Pistol.
Headley also starts 6-year-old Dig For It in Sunday's Grade II Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap.The field for the $200,000 Ancient Title Handicap at six furlongs for older horses, from the rail out, with jockeys and weights: Swept Overboard, Eddie Delahoussaye, 116; Freespool, Isaias Enriquez, 117; Lexicon, Kent Desormeaux, 117; Forest Camp, Mike Smith, 115; I Love Silver, Laffit Pincay Jr., 113, and Kona Gold, Alex Solis, 127;