Updated on 09/16/2011 7:30AM

Kona Gold not acting his age

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - He once was great. He now is old. Kona Gold will try to be both at the same time Sunday, when he returns from a long layoff facing the obvious question. Champion sprinter of 2000, Kona Gold is now 8. You know what they say.

"You always wonder if he's lost a step," trainer Bruce Headley admitted, "but I have had 8- and 9-year-olds beat great horses, so I see no reason why he can't be in the same position."

The 2002 debut for Kona Gold bears little similarity to past comebacks, however. The popular gelding has won more than $2 million by winning 12 of 23, including the 2000 Breeders' Cup Sprint, and every other year that he returned he was reigning champ or the undisputed leader of California sprinters.

Not now. Kona Gold lost his final three starts of 2001, finishing off the board in successive races for the first time. He also returns from one of the longest layoffs of his career - more than six months - while conceding at least 10 pounds (he carries 125) in the Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap. Still, none of Kona Gold's six rivals will be pleased to learn the veteran is acting like a kid again.

"He's working like the same old Kona," Headley said, adding "he's looking good, feeling great, he's limber and freshened up."

A series of blistering workouts suggest Kona Gold is ready. His body language supports the idea. Kona Gold stands attentively at the front of his stall, playfully reaches out to nip at passers-by, and licks his lips when he eyes a carrot.

These are things a horse is supposed to do when he is feeling good. Kona Gold is feeling good, after spending three months at Headley's ranch in Arcadia. It was a necessary rest following a campaign that ended with a thud.

"He probably was a tired horse, too many trips back and forth," Headley said.

Headley turned him out. "You just go off what you've done in the past with horses that tailed off. The vacation, the sunlight, the relaxation, the green grass, brought them back. Hopefully, it brings him back."

Owned by Headley with Andrew and Irwin Molasky, Kona Gold will be ridden again by Alex Solis. The six-furlong Los Angeles is a race Kona Gold should not lose, despite high weight over a track he has raced at only once.

Kona Gold's rivals include classified allowance winner No Armistice, and four allowance-caliber runners: Radiata, Komax, Hombre Rapido, and Rapidough.

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