10/24/2001 11:00PM

Sprint: Will Kona Gold shine two years in a row?


ELMONT, N.Y. - After a record-shattering performance in last year's $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint, Kona Gold tries to become the Sprint's first repeat winner on Saturday at Belmont Park.

Kona Gold, a 7-year-old gelding, is the likely favorite in the outstanding field of 14 sprinters, which includes nine Grade 1 winners. It will be Kona Gold's fourth appearance in the Grade 1 Sprint. In 1998, he finished third and then was second in 1999, before getting the job done last year at Churchill Downs.

Kona Gold, co-owned by Irwin and Andrew Molasky and his trainer Bruce Headley, is one of three Breeders' Cup horses on this year's card looking to win the same races they won in 2000. Only four horses have been able to win two Breeders' Cup races.

Last year, the California-based Kona Gold won the six-furlong Sprint in stakes- and track-record time of 1:07.77 and later won the Eclipse Award.

Headley, 67, said he believes Kona Gold is as good as ever and predicts a strong performance.

"It's a really competitive field because there are six trainers who think they are going to win," Headley said. "The trip is key, but I think if we have a good trip, as determined as Kona Gold is, he will win."

Last year, Kona Gold, a pace-presser, wore down the incredibly fast Caller One, who again will be a major pace factor, in the final sixteenth.

Headley anticipates this year's Sprint unfolding in similar fashion.

"He'll be following the speed, which he always is," Headley said. "Either Squirtle Squirt or Caller One [will have the lead], probably Caller One, he's one of the fastest horses I have ever seen."

Alex Solis, Kona Gold's regular rider, has the mount. He drew post 4.

Caller One was able to shake free from the field in last year's Sprint and set blazing fractions before weakening late and finishing fourth, three lengths behind Kona Gold. On Saturday, Caller One, who is trained by Jim Chapman, figures to have some company up front. Squirtle Squirt, Xtra Heat, and Five Star Day, who got off to a bad start in last year's Sprint, are capable of hounding Caller One from the get-go.

Undaunted, Chapman said, "He'll go as fast as they make him go."

Caller One, unraced since finishing second to Kona Gold in the Bing Crosby at Del Mar in July, will be ridden by Corey Nakatani. He drew post 6.

Trainer Bob Baffert, who won his first Breeders' Cup race with Thirty Slews in the 1992 Sprint, has entered El Corredor, a son of Mr. Greeley, the runner-up in the 1995 Sprint. El Corredor, a Grade 1 winner at a mile, is 2 for 2 at six furlongs, but hasn't competed at the distance in more than a year.

"It's a little short for him, but he's got that brilliant kick," Baffert said.

In addition to El Corredor, who should be running well late, Forest Hills winner Delaware Township, Vosburgh winner Left Bank, and Phoenix winner Bet on Sunshine will be closing in on the early leaders during the stretch run.

Delaware Township loves Belmont Park and has been training super in the weeks leading up to the Breeders' Cup. Last year, Delaware Township drew horribly in post 14 and was never a factor. This time around, Delaware Township drew favorably in post 7.

A win here by Bet on Sunshine, a 9-year-old who has finished third in two other Sprint starts, would make him the oldest Cup winner.

Swept Overboard used a late run to give Kona Gold his first defeat since March 2000 in the Grade 1 Ancient Title earlier this month.

"He might be peaking at the right time," said Swept Overboard's trainer, Craig Dollase, who won the Sprint in 1998 with Reraise.

Xtra Heat, the lone filly in the field, will try to emulate Very Subtle, Safely Kept, and Desert Stormer as fillies who have won the Sprint.

Mozart, the only foreign representative, will try to follow in the footsteps of the only European to win the Sprint, Sheikh Albadou in 1991.

Longshots Alannan, Hook and Ladder, and Peeping Tom complete the field.