11/21/2007 12:00AM

Kona Gold going to Horse Park

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - At age 13, Kona Gold's work is done. The charismatic gelding leaves California on Sunday, headed for his new home in the revered Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky.

Kona Gold retired from racing in 2003 and spent four years as a pony for trainer Bruce Headley, who owned the gelding with Andrew and Irwin Molasky. Over a six-year career, Kona Gold won 14 races and more than $2.9 million.

"It's an honor to be invited there, and he deserves it," Headley said. "I'm sure he would rather be there than here with me on his back."

Kona Gold will take up residence in the stall formerly occupied by two-time Horse of the Year Cigar, who moved into John Henry's old stall. John Henry was 32 when he passed away Oct. 8.

Kathy Hopkins, equine director for Kentucky Horse Park, said Kona Gold was admitted following an industry nomination and approval process. He will reside in the Hall of Champions barn with Cigar, two-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner Da Hoss, champion pacers Western Dreamer and Staying Together, and American saddlebred CH Gypsy Supreme. It is an elite group, appropriate for one of California's most popular sprinters.

Alex Solis rode Kona Gold in 28 of 30 starts, including the 2000 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs where his time of 1:07.77 for the six furlongs remains the fastest in BC history.

"He was a warrior, he showed up to every fight," Solis said. "He was an incredible character, and he loved people."

Kona Gold ran in a record five straight Breeders' Cups from 1998 to 2002. He won 10 graded stakes, and in 2000 was named champion sprinter. Kona Gold remains the best horse Headley has trained, and the best Java Gold has sired.

"People love great horses, and they love him," Headley said. "They say you only get one like that."