Kona Gold Is One to Beat in Triple Bend Handicap

Sprint king Kona Gold is the heavy 3-5 favorite in a field of 10 heading toward Saturday's grade II, $300,000 Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park.

The 2000 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) champion has only been out of the money three times out of 24 lifetime starts. Two of those lackluster performances came late last year in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the De Francis Memorial Dash (gr. I), but those races only told trainer Bruce Headley that the 8 year old gelding by Java Gold needed a rest. Kona Gold raced in six grade I or grade II races in 2001 and never carried less than 125 pounds.

"I think it doesn't make too much difference until you get up past 121 pounds," Headley told The Blood-Horse in early June.

Kona Gold returned from vacation in the Los Angeles Handicap (gr. III) on June 2 and proved he's still got it, winning with authority by 1 1/4 lengths and carrying 125 pounds. He'll enter the gates of the seven-furlong Triple Bend carrying 126 and his regular rider, Alex Solis.

Among the leading contenders are Mellow Fellow, Full Moon Madness, and the inconsistent but dangerous D'wildcat.

Mellow Fellow has turned into a running machine this year, having notched six consecutive victories. The last one came in the Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint Handicap (gr. III). The 7-year-old son of Belek, trained by Bill Spawr, has collected nearly half his lifetime earnings of $417,263 since January. Laffit Pincay Jr. replaces Russell Baze in the irons.

Full Moon Madness earned a Beyer speed figure of 113 when he won the Saratoga Handicap on June 1, making the speed figure earned by Kona Gold in the Los Angeles Handicap. The son of Half a Year has won both starts this year and is 27 for 33 in the money for lifetime starts. He is trained by Robert Marshall and will be ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr.

A ninth-place finish by 19 lengths in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) his last time out doesn't make D'Wildcat seem very fearsome, but the 4-year-old Forest Wildcat colt has been unpredictable in winning some big races. He won the 2001 Swale Stakes (gr. III) by 10 1/2 lengths. He followed the Swale with a second place finish by six lengths in an $80,000 optional claiming race and was fourth in the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II). D'Wildcat came back to finish a neck behind Snow Ridge in the Churchill Downs Handicap (gr. II) and was placed first because he'd been hit by a whip in the stretch. He is trained by Robert Hess Jr. and will be ridden by Pat Valenzuela.

The Triple Bend field by post position is:

1) Disturbingthepeace, Espinoza, 112, 30-1
2) I Love Silver, Delahoussaye, 116, 15-1
3) Mellow Fellow, Pincay, 120, 9-2
4) Top Hit, Smith, 115, 20-1
5) Kona Gold, Solis, 126, 3-5
6) Blu Air Force, Desourmeaux, 115, 12-1
7) Grey Memo, Garcia, 114, 20-1
8) D'wildcat, Valenzuela, 114, 10-1
9) Full Moon Madness, 117, 8-1
10) Elaborate, Davis, 113, 15-1.