01/01/2003 12:00AM

Kona Gold rides the rail to go from last to first


ARCADIA, Calif. - The 9-year-old Kona Gold showed he may be as good as ever.

Wednesday at Santa Anita, Kona Gold won his 11th stakes in the $108,800 El Conejo Handicap, unleashing a remarkable rally from last place that caught Radiata in the final 30 yards.

Ridden by Alex Solis, Kona Gold spotted the front-running Radiata four lengths for the first half of the 5 1/2-furlong sprint. On the turn, Kona Gold moved closer while staying on the rail. Solis found room along the rail, allowing Kona Gold to close steadily. He won by a neck over Radiata, with No Armistice third in the field of seven. No Armistice was always close to the pace but was unable to save ground after starting in post 5.

Kona Gold ($4.60) ran the distance in 1:02.63 to become only the fifth 9-year-old to win a stakes at Santa Anita. The El Conejo was his first start since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Arlington Park on Oct. 26, the fifth consecutive year in which Kona Gold had appeared in that championship race.

Kona Gold races for Andrew and Irwin Molasky and trainer Bruce Headley. He has won 14 of 27 starts and $2,262,984.