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Tom Hall

Champion Kona Gold Euthanized

The 15-year-old gelding was living at the Kentucky Horse Park

By Erin Ryder

Kona Gold, a resident of the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park, was euthanized Sept. 25 after a paddock accident. The 15-year-old gelding had resided at the park since November 2007.

Cathy Roby, Hall of Champions manager, said a visitor alerted the staff to a problem with one of the horses at about 8:30 a.m. EDT, just before the Hall of Champions residents are usually brought in for the day.

Kona Gold, peacefully pastured with Da Hoss, had sustained a spiral fracture of the left forearm sometime overnight, as X-rays at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute would later show. Surgeons at Hagyard concluded that, due to its location, the injury could not be repaired.

Roby said Kona Gold’s co-owner and trainer Bruce Headley was in town for the Keeneland sale, and made the decision to euthanize the champion.

“They said they didn't want him to suffer, and it really didn't seem like there was anything logical that could be done,” Roby said.

The cause of the injury is unknown. While a steady rain throughout the week in Central Kentucky made conditions slick, neither of the horses were muddy. Roby said she didn't think a kick would cause a fracture of that type.

“The only thing we can think of is maybe he just twisted it wrong,” Roby said.

This has been a tough year at the Hall of Champions. Alysheba, a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner and Horse of the Year, was euthanized March 27, 2009, just a few months after he took up residence in the stall formerly occupied by champion John Henry, a 22-year resident who was euthanized in October 2007.

As a retirement home for equine legends, the staff at the Hall of Champions expect to one day say goodbye to their charges—but not at age 15.

“This just totally blows your mind. He was the second-youngest horse in the barn – you'd never expect it,” Roby said. “It's so surreal—I guess it hasn't soaked in yet, but it doesn’t seem real.”

Kona Gold Slideshow
Kona Gold Remembering Champion Kona Gold.

As a 6-year-old, Kona Gold won the 2000 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, breaking the track and Breeders’ Cup records for six furlongs, getting the distance in 1:07.77. That same year, the son of Java Gold won an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter and was runner-up for the Horse of the Year. 

Kona Gold is the only Breeders’ Cup winner to compete in five consecutive Breeders’ Cups from 1988-2002. He finished third in the 1998 Sprint and was runner-up to Artax the following year.

At 8, he won the Los Angeles Handicap (gr. III) and at 9 won the El Conejo Handicap (gr. III). Kona Gold retired at the age of 10, ending his career with 11 stakes wins. He scored the San Carlos Handicap (gr. II) and Palos Verdes Handicap (gr. II); and won the following races twice: Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II), Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II), Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II), and El Conejo Handicap.

Kona Gold’s overall record from 30 starts was 14-7-2, with earnings of $2,293,284. He spent several years as Headley’s stable pony following his retirement.

The bay was bred in Kentucky by Carlos Perez and is out of the Slew o’ Gold mare Double Sunrise. Headley purchased him for $35,000 at the 1995 Keeneland September yearling sale. He was co-owned by Irwin Molasky and Andrew Molasky, and G. Michael Singh’s High Tech Stable.

Kona Gold was invited to join the Horse Park's Hall of Champions in October 2007.

He will be interred along the back walkway to the Hall of Champions, next to Saddlebred Wild Eyed and Wicked, and across from Forego.

“Kona Gold came to the park because he deserved his place among our other champions, and also because he endeared himself to the racing public during his illustrious career on the track,” said John Nicholson, executive director of the park, in a statement. “It was a case of 'love at first sight' for our staff when Kona Gold stepped off the van two years ago as a new resident of the Hall of Champions. Not only was he a handsome animal with kind eyes, he was also gentle and good. He was definitely one of my personal favorites because he had such a good heart.

“While this is a sad day, we will always appreciate that Kona’s owners made the decision to send him to the Kentucky Horse Park, and our sympathy goes out to them and to all the people who have cherished him through the years,” Nicholson said.