07/18/2001 11:00PM

Kona Gold: Fastest of times, and slowest

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DEL MAR, Calif. - In the two weeks leading up to Sunday's Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap, Kona Gold has turned in the fastest work of the day and the slowest.

On July 5, the 7-year-old Kona Gold stunned even trainer Bruce Headley with a five-furlong workout in 56.60 seconds at Santa Anita, by far the fastest work of the day. Headley had expected a time closer to 57 seconds, or two lengths slower than the record time.

On Thursday at Del Mar, Kona Gold worked three furlongs in 39.20 seconds, the slowest of 21 works at the distance.

"We were just loosening him up, getting the feel of the track," Headley said.

The champion sprinter of 2000, Kona Gold will be a short-priced favorite against a small field in the Bing Crosby, run over six furlongs. Sunday's race will be his first start since he won the Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap on April 1 at Santa Anita. It is the same schedule that Headley used last year.

"So far, it's been perfect," Headley said. "It's been easy to follow something that had worked. He stays pretty steady. You can see by his race record, he's always the same."

The fast workout two weeks did take its toll, Headley said.

"You can see it drains his energy," Headley said. "For a few days, he's a little quiet, but he bounces back in a week."

There may only be three starters in the Bing Crosby, including Caller One, the winner of the Golden Shaheen in Dubai, and Swept Overboard, the winner of the Kerlan Handicap on turf at Hollywood Park last month.

Point Given works

Point Given, who has not raced since his victory in the Belmont Stakes, picked up the pace of preparation for his next start when he worked six furlongs, from the gate, at Del Mar on Thursday.

Point Given was timed in 1:16.20 over a track that was quite dull before a mid-morning renovation break. Trainer Bob Baffert said he worked Point Given from the gate "because I needed to get a hard work into him. I got a little behind with him. He got a little soft on me after the Belmont."

Baffert said his immediate objective for Point Given remains the Aug. 5 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. The purse for that race will be raised to $1.5 million if Point Given runs.

Baffert's other top 3-year-old, Swaps Stakes winner Congaree, could make his next start at Saratoga in the Jim Dandy Stakes on Aug. 4. Baffert said Saratoga appeals to him for Congaree because Congaree should handle an off track, should it rain, and because the colt's owners, Robert and Janice McNair, have a summer home there, the former Greentree estate.

'First blood' to Baffert and Ecstatic

The expected battle between Baffert and trainer Eoin Harty with their 2-year-olds got off to an appropriate start on Wednesday when they ran one-two in the third race, with Baffert's Ecstatic beating Harty's Ibn Al Haitham by two lengths. In addition to the top racing both trainers figure to provide this summer, they appear ready to engage in some good-natured ribbing.

"Baffert got the better of me in Chapter One. I vow revenge, hopefully in a stakes race," Harty said Thursday morning. "He took first blood."

Ecstatic, a large son of Rahy who was making his first start, paid $23 and was timed in 58.22 seconds for five furlongs. Another Baffert runner in that race, Hezgotanothergear, finished fifth at odds of 9-2.

"I thought he was more horse than that," Baffert said of Hezgotanothergear.

Ecstatic originally had his name approved as Estatic, but his owners, Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corporation, successfully lobbied The Jockey Club to change his name to a correct spelling late last week, Baffert said.

Ecstatic could return in the $150,000 Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 15. Officer, a son of Bertrando who won impressively first time out at Hollywood Park, will run next in Wednesday's $125,000 Graduation Stakes, Baffert said.

Chapter Two of Baffert vs. Harty will take place Saturday in the sixth race, a six-furlong maiden race for 2-year-olds. Both trainers have two runners entered. Harty has the entry of Dubai Edition and Dubai Touch, both first-time starters. Baffert counters with Saturday Hero, who will be making his second start, and Sugar Babe, who is making his debut. Harty said Dubai Touch is quicker than Dubai Edition, who has a turf pedigree. Baffert expects Saturday Hero to run better second time out, and he calls Sugar Babe, who is by Quiet American, "my new Real Quiet."

Both trainers also are expected to run fillies in another 2-year-old maiden race Sunday.

Bruised Blanc takes a day off

Jockey Brice Blanc took off his mounts on Thursday's program, a day after he was kicked in the lower back in a spill in the second race.

Blanc underwent X-rays at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla on Wednesday afternoon, but they were negative.

He was named to ride on Saturday, but is questionable, according to his agent, Corey Black.

"He's just sore," said Black. "We'll just play day-by-day."

- additional reporting by Jay Privman