07/20/2001 12:00AM

'H' is for Headley; 'S' is for singular


DEL MAR, Calif. - It was just getting light, and here below the Solana Gate, in a corner of the Del Mar backstretch occupied by large sheds of equipment and piles of concrete debris, the Bruce Headley stable was already in full swing.

Teams of Thoroughbreds, calm as cattle, went back and forth to the track dressed in Headley's bright gold saddle towels and bridles. Others stood on wash racks getting hosed down, the spray backlit by the glow from shedrow bulbs. Adorning the first stall door, beneath Headley's trademark "H" brand, was the stable mantra "Keep Moving." Everyone complied.

A little before six, Alex Solis emerged from the shadows and ducked into Headley's office. He was right on time to give Kona Gold his final breeze before Sunday's $200,000 Bing Crosby Handicap. But first, there was something he brought for the boss.

"Listen to this," Solis said as he dropped a casette into a tape player and cued up an old hit by Natalie Cole's famous dad.

" 'L' is for the way you look at me/

" 'O' is for the only one I see/

" 'V' is very, very extraordinary. . ."

"Ahhh," Headley sighed. "That's the real King. Alex knows what it takes if you want to work for me."

In truth, it requires a bit more than an appreciation for the talents of Nat King Cole to get on Headley's good side. Good horsemanship is required. A devoted work ethic must be second nature. And it helps if you think outside the box.

But never, ever try to figure out the boss. Headley is an American original, a true eccentric, whose work with Thoroughbreds of all shapes, sizes, and ages has earned the head-scratching admiration of California horseplayers and patrons of the game for the better part of 35 years.

Take, for example, Headley's preparation of Kona Gold for the six-furlong Crosby. The horse has not run since April 1. He was given a relatively easy May and June, training lightly at Santa Anita Park. Then, on July 5, Kona Gold and Solis worked five furlongs in a withering 56.60. Asked to describe Kona Gold's attitude going into that work, Solis growled and made a face like an angry grizzly.

"That's how I know he's ready to get the job done," Solis said.

Now it was three days before the Bing Crosby, in which Kona Gold would be facing the young lions Caller One and Swept Overboard, and Headley wanted nothing more than a tease of a work. As the trainer rode alongside Kona Gold on his paint pony, his instructions to Solis took longer than the workout itself, which was accomplished in a languid 38.20.

"That other one I wanted to fire a number at them, a warning," Headley said with a grin, referring to the 56-and-change work. "This was just a little stretch today, something for him to do."

Andrew Molasky, part-owner of Kona Gold, watched Thursday's work from a backstretch stand, located at the half-mile pole. He knew the final time was meaningless, so he didn't bother to ask.

"There's no one like Bruce," said Molasky, treading on fairly safe ground. "I like to come around as much as possible, to learn, and to watch how he handles the horses."

Molasky owns Kona Gold in partnership with Headley, Michael Singh, and his father, Las Vegas developer Irwin Molasky. Deferring to Headley's leadership, the partnership has watched Kona Gold blossom from a 4-year-old maiden into the reigning sprint champion of North America. The Crosby will be the first step in a three-race process meant to put Kona Gold at the peak of his powers for a defense of his title in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont Park. No horse has ever won the race twice.

At the age of 48, Molasky has been a racing fan practically all of his life. He was raised in Las Vegas, where the game had a flurry of activity from 1963 through 1965, beginning at a half-mile track called Thunderbird Downs.

"I was 10, and they offered a $25,000 jackpot for picking all the winners," Molasky recalled. "I told my dad I was going to buy all the tickets and win the prize. I was already making plans for the money. What I didn't figure out was how much all the combinations would cost."

Molasky's first ownership brush with a stakes-class Headley runner was the filly Tiffany Diamond. Later, they upgraded from diamonds to Kona Gold.

With a winning streak standing at six, the champion has not lost a race in more than 16 months. And he has never lost a race in four appearances at Del Mar, a record that includes a 15-length maiden victory in July of 1998 and a 1 3/4-length score against Love That Red in the 2000 version of the Crosby.

"Even though I know how consistent he is, and how Bruce takes him over there ready to fire every time, I still get nervous whenever he runs," Molasky confessed. "They are both amazing."

And very, very extraordinary.