07/23/2002 12:00AM

Future of prince's stable yet to be settled

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Although Bob Baffert will continue to train his string of horses owned by The Thoroughbred Corporation for upcoming races, he said on Tuesday that those runners likely will eventually be sold as part of settling the estate of Prince Ahmed bin Salman, who died on Monday.

Salman, who raced as The Thoroughbred Corporation, is survived by a wife and five young children. His racing manager, Richard Mulhall, is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia on Thursday to both pay his condolences to the family and speak with Salman's father regarding the stable's future, Baffert said.

"I'm sure they'll end up selling everything off," Baffert said.

The Thoroughbred Corporation has extensive holdings, both for racing and breeding. Baffert estimated he has 30 horses for Salman, including War Emblem, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Several other trainers have smaller numbers of Salman-owned runners, both in the United States and Europe.

Salman also owns a number of broodmares, including Spain, now the top money-winning female racehorse of all time. The most likely venue for dispersing horses of that ilk would be the November sale at Keeneland, though until Mulhall returns from Saudi Arabia, it is premature to say with certainty what the future holds for The Thoroughbred Corporation.

The Thoroughbred Corporation was a financial powerhouse in recent years. Since the beginning of 1999, the stable won more than $23 million in purses.

Fan favorite Kona Gold returns

One of the most touching moments of the 2001 meeting at Del Mar occurred after the Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap, when Kona Gold returned to the winner's circle and was engulfed by a throaty, heartfelt roar from the crowd.

Beginning in 1998, Kona Gold has raced at Del Mar five times over three seasons. He has never lost. He is unquestionably the most popular horse who will run here this summer, and he is scheduled to go for his third victory in the six-furlong Bing Crosby on Saturday.

Kona Gold, however, is age 8, and has won just once in his last five starts. He has finished out of the money just four times in his career, but three of those instances have occurred in his last four starts. Despite that, he has been assigned 124 pounds or more in every start since October 2000. There is a sense that if Kona Gold does not snap back to life at this, his favorite track, that he may be on the downside of his brilliant career.

"He's getting older. Father Time has a way of driving you closer to the finish line," his poetic trainer, Bruce Headley, rhapsodized at his Del Mar barn on Tuesday morning. "No matter how good he looks, how good he's eating, how good he's training, as you grow older, it effects you differently. For me, it's pain in my shoulders. I can't talk to him and find out. But he moves a lot better than I do."

Kona Gold most recently finished sixth of nine in the Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 6, in which he carried 126 pounds. Headley was furious after the race, believing jockey Pat Valenzuela, riding D'wildcat, interfered with Kona Gold and jockey Alex Solis, and Headley was still seething on Tuesday.

"He was spotting a lot of weight in that race, and the way Valenzuela crowded him, I'm happy to be talking about my horse," Headley said. "He had nicks all over. When you get bumped with that much weight with a horse with no weight in front of you, you can't catch him.

"At least Alex eased him up. That's why I'm loyal to jockeys. They take care of your horse, even if others don't."

No infraction was detected by Hollywood Park's stewards during the race, but later they did give Valenzuela a three-day suspension for that incident, which Valenzuela appealed.

Headley said Kona Gold has been "enthusiastic in his workouts" since arriving at Del Mar. Headley also said he has gone easy on Kona Gold since the Triple Bend, because he is coming back on just three weeks' rest, and had to ship from Santa Anita to Del Mar.

Headley would like nothing more than to win the Bing Crosby again, knowing the outpouring of emotion would rival last year's celebration.

"That was the greatest race of my life, more so than when he won the Breeders' Cup, because I knew the whole crowd was cheering for him," Headley said.

"It gave me goosebumps. It was like a John Henry moment, or a Best Pal moment."

- Mellow Fellow, who is expected to challenge Kona Gold, worked four furlongs in 46.40 seconds Tuesday morning at Del Mar. D'wildcat and Freespool are other expected runners in the Bing Crosby.

- Beat Hollow, scheduled to run in Sunday's Eddie Read Handicap on turf, worked five furlongs on dirt in 1:01.40. His rivals are expected to include Casey Griffin, Redattore, Sarafan, and Suances.

- Valenzuela will be at Arlington Park on Saturday to ride Kappa King for trainer Bobby Frankel in the Grade 3, $225,000 Arlington Handicap.