Corey Nakatani takes over the reigns on 9-year-old Kona Gold in Saturday's $200,000 Portrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at 6 1 /2 furlongs at Santa Anita.
It's the first time since Alex Solis got on the Java Gold gelding in his second career start that the 2000 Eclipse winner has had a new rider on his back. Solis is in Dubai this weekend to compete in the Dubai World Cup program, forcing trainer Bruce Headley to make a change.
While assigned top weight of 121 pounds in the seven-horse field, it will be Kona gold's lightest impost in about three years. That was when he captured the Palos Verdes Handicap (gr. II) during his Eclipse Award campaign of 2000. He later won the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) that year.
He spots his rival Saturday from three to 14 pounds.
This year, Kona Gold won the El Conejo Handicap (gr. III) on Jan. 1 to and was sixth in the Palos Verdes Handicap on Jan. 26.
The champ has 14 wins and eight seconds in 28 starts, and has earned $2,262,984 for the partnership of Headley and Irwin and Andrew Molasky.
Bluesthestandard, the popular Georgia-bred gelding that has risen from the $10,000 claiming ranks, has been supplemented for $4,000 to the Potrero Grande.
"We were planning on giving him a little time," trainer Ted H. West said. "We had some other spots in mind way down the road, but he's doing so good right now, and he's the kind of horse you can't back off on, because he gets so energetic and so aggressive, he's going to hurt someone or hurt himself (if he doesn't run). We figured rather than give him his usual :58 flat works, we might as well just run him for the money."
Also entered is Debonair Joe, who trainer Juan Pablo Silva expects to turn in a performance more like his Malibu Stakes (gr. I) win Dec. 26 than his fourth-place effort in the Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap at Golden Gate on Feb. 22.
"He was more than 10 lengths behind (at the half-mile pole)," Silva said of the Maddy. "I told the kid (jockey David Lopez), 'Just break him, grab a little hold of him and don't push him. Wait until the 3/8.' I messed up. David told me if he would have kept him five, six lengths off the pace, he probably would have won the race."$200,000 Portrero Grande Breeders's Cup Handicap (gr. II), 4 & up, 6 1/2 furlongs
PP. Horse, Wgt., Rider
1. Debonair Joe (CA), 118, Patrick A. Valenzuela
2. Martel (FL), 107, Matt S. Garcia
3. F J's Pace (FL), 117, David Romero Flores
4. D'wildcat (KY), 118, Victor Espinoza
5. Joey Franco (CA), 112, Gary L. Stevens
6. Kona Gold (KY), 121, Corey S. Nakatani
7. Bluesthestandard (GA), 114, Mike E. Smith