"He's working really well. He's real happy. He's like he was a couple of years ago." Is he really the same "old warrior?" "Oh, yeah, he's the same old guy."That's jockey Alex Solis talking about his favorite horse, Kona Gold, in preparation for a start Saturday in the 58th edition of the grade II, $200,000 Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap at 6 furlongs on the main track. That kind of confidence should inspire the sort of respect - even fear - that the 9-year-old sprinter engendered three years ago when he won his first of two straight Crosby dashes, the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the Eclipse Award as North America's premier sprinter.He'll need to be in prime shape to tackle the competitive field of eight other contenders expected to line up for Saturday's speed duel. But what also will be working in his favor is the fact he is unbeaten at Del Mar in five outings beginning in 1998 as a 4-year-old. Kona Gold didn't run at the seaside last year because trainer Bruce Headley was not happy with the weights assigned.Disturbingthepeace won last year's Crosby and is back to defend his title for owners David and Rita Milch and trainer Darrell Vienna.What gives Solis the idea that Kona Gold is, indeed, golden again? "You can feel his spirit," said Solis, who has ridden the gelded son of Java Gold in all of his 29 races except the first one and the most recent, and who is his regular work rider. "He's very competitive. He works with horses in front of him and goes and beats them. He's very motivated," the rider said.And as an important postscript, Solis said, "You should never underestimate a champion. Things haven't changed much with him. He's ready."
The field, with weights and riders:
1--Medecis, 115, Mike Smith
2--No Armistice, 114, Jose Valdivia Jr.
3--Bluesthestandard, 117, Martin Pedroza
4--Avanzado, 117, Tyler Baze
5--Kona Gold, 119, Alex Solis
6--Disturbingthepeace, 118, Victor Espinoza
7--Captain Squire, 117, Gary Stevens
8--Giovanetti, 113, Kent Desormeaux
9--Beau's Town, 119, Patrick Valenzuela