Updated on 09/16/2011 8:54AM

Kona Gold won't wait long to run

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Kona Gold, winner of the 2000 Breeders' Cup Sprint, will try to become the fifth horse to win a Santa Anita stakes at age 9 when he runs in the Grade 3 El Conejo Handicap at 5 1/2 furlongs on Jan. 1.

Kona Gold, 13 for 26 with earnings of $2,197,704, does not typically campaign early in the season, though he won the 1999 El Conejo while establishing the track record of 1:01.74 for 5 1/2 furlongs. Kona Gold has not raced since finishing fourth in the BC Sprint on Oct. 26.

"He's ready to run, there's been no setbacks," trainer Bruce Headley said.

The last horse to win a Santa Anita stakes at age 9 was the Headley-trained Softshoe Sure Shot, who won the 1995 San Carlos. The others are Super Diamond, winner of the 1989 San Antonio Handicap; Desert Chief III, winner of the 1965 San Marcos Handicap; and Olhaverry, winner of the 1948 San Pasqual Handicap.

Kona Gold's rivals in the El Conejo include the improving Giovannetti, winner of three straight. Commenting on Giovannetti's prospects in his first graded stakes, trainer Frank Montelone said: "I'd rather run against Kona Gold now than three years ago."

Mellow Fellow and Roman Dancer also are expected in the first older-horse sprint of the meet. D'wildcat, winner of the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial, is nominated to the El Conejo but will wait for the General George at Laurel in February.

Pleasantly Perfect targets San Antonio

Pleasantly Perfect, who has not raced since his victory in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap 2 1/2 months ago, is making steady progress training for his first start of the new year. He worked an easy half-mile on Monday morning in 51.60 seconds for trainer Richard Mandella, who said Pleasantly Perfect is being aimed for the $250,000 San Antonio Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 2.

Mandella said he was bypassing the 1 1/16-mile San Pasqual Handicap on Jan. 4 because he believes Pleasantly Perfect needs at least 1 1/8 miles to be effective.

"After the San Antonio, we'll have a decision to make on whether to run in the Santa Anita Handicap or go to Dubai for the World Cup," Mandella said.

Pleasantly Perfect could have been one of the favorites for the Breeders' Cup Classic, but he was not eligible for the race because he bled while in the receiving barn after the Goodwood. Under Illinois racing rules, bleeders are barred from racing for 30 days, so Pleasantly Perfect was out.

Mandella decided to give Pleasantly Perfect a break, then aim him for the main winter meeting at Santa Anita, where the trainer is based. And with the Breeders' Cup here next year, Pleasantly Perfect will have his biggest goal of 2003 right in his backyard.

"After he bled, I wanted to take my time and give him time to recover," Mandella said.

Mandella said another of his well-regarded trainees, the 2-year-old colt Listen Indy, is about five weeks away from a race. Listen Indy, who finished third in the Norfolk Stakes during the Oak Tree meeting, has not raced since finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"Once he's ready to run, I'll look for a race. I don't have anything specifically in mind," Mandella said. Listen Indy's only victory was against maidens, so he is still eligible for first-level allowance races.

Several maidens with talent

Few maiden races hold as much promise as those held on the opening day of a meeting, and Thursday at Santa Anita is no different. The opening-day card includes two races for maidens.

"It's like winning at Del Mar on opening day. Those are your two biggest meets - Santa Anita and Del Mar," said trainer Mike Machowsky.

Machowksy's first-time starter Southern Image has trained like something special, and Machowsky expects a big effort when he makes his debut in the ninth race.

A super gate work Dec. 19 - six furlongs in 1:11.40 - has Southern Image, a $300,000 son of Halo's Image, ready to roll. "He's not overly quick, he's just got a great turn of foot," Machowsky said.

Southern Image faces first-time starter Ministers Wild Cat, a Deputy Minister colt who is a half-brother to Breeders' Cup Mile winner War Chant; and second-time starters Amasoldier and Decisional. The ninth race is a split of the sixth, also headed by first-time starters.

Dawson Trail, a $1 million colt by Seeking the Gold, debuts for trainer Neil Drysdale with expectations for a strong showing first out. His main rival may be Richard's Boy, a son of Gentlemen trained by Richard Mandella. "We keep thinking the Gentlemens all want to run long, but they run short as well," Mandella said. "[Richard's Boy] has trained pretty sharp a few times."

The Bob Hess-trained Ocean Terrace also is considered a contender, though, Hess said, "he'll run well first out, and a ton better second time."

Paxtecum euthanized

The promising 3-year-old Paxtecum, who would have been one of the contenders in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes, shattered his left front cannon bone in a workout last Thursday at Santa Anita and was euthanized. The incident occurred in the middle of the turn during Paxtecum's final pre-Malibu workout for Machowsky. Paxtecum, owned by Dr. John Waken, had won three races and $117,047 from seven starts, and was a favorite at the Machowsky stable. "Besides being a barn pet, he was a good horse," the trainer said.

Bigger fields allowed in sprint races

Horseplayers will benefit from two new procedures instituted by the Santa Anita racing office this meet. Program numbers of all runners will be published in Daily Racing Form, as horses "enter to run."

Also, there will be potential for bonanza payoffs in some trifecta and superfecta races. That is because Santa Anita will allow up to 14 starters in races at six, 6 1/2, and seven furlongs. There will be no mutuel field, and the races will include 14 wagering interests.

The difference in the number of potential combinations is dramatic for the trifecta and superfecta. In a race with 12 wagering interests, there are 1,320 possible trifecta combinations; while a 14-interest field has 2,184 possible combinations. In the superfecta, there are 11,880 possible combinations in a 12-interest field; 24,024 in a field with 14.

Black becomes exercise rider

Former jockey Corey Black is working as an exercise rider for Mandella. Black retired two years ago because of the demands of trying to ride at a light weight.

During the summer of 2001, Black entered a facility to confront problems related to excessive drinking. He now attends regular meetings.

"I'm not usually sympathetic to people with those kinds of problems, but he's worth it," Mandella said. "He had a problem, he dealt with it, and he's diligent about attending meetings. He'll leave here sometimes for a meeting and come back.

"He was trying to ride at 110 pounds, and he probably should weigh about 150 pounds," Mandella said. "I think all his problems related from that. He's a good guy."

* Apalachian Thunder, a promising 2-year-old colt who won a maiden race at Oak Tree for trainer Howie Zucker, flew through a six-furlong workout in 1:09.80 on Monday morning for his new trainer, Bob Baffert.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman