Friday, September 25, 2009

Another fallen champion: Kona Gold dead at 15

I can only shake my head and ask, "When will it stop?"

Horse racing followers already are reeling a bit from the losses in just the past few days of prominent racehorses and sires Gone West, El lPrado, Summer Squall and Cryptoclearance.

Now comes word that Kona Gold -- the Eclipse champion sprinter of the year 2000, and runner-up for Horse of the Year -- has been euthanized at the young age of 15. Kona Gold was retired in 2003 and at the time of his death was a resident of the Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions.

Apparently, while exercising in his paddock, Kona Gold took a bad step and suffered a spiral fracture of his radius.

Kona Gold was always an interesting horse to me, because his racing performance seemed to defy his pedigree, not in quality of ancestors -- as he was very well-bred -- but in his preference for short races.

His sire, Java Gold, won the 9-furlong Remsen Stakes (then a Grade 1 race) as a 2-year-old, and took Grade 1 races in the Whitney (9f), Travers (10f), and Marlboro Cup Invitational (10f) at age 3. (Java Gold, by the way, still is in stallion service at Gestüt Ammerland in Germany, which also stands his German son Boreal, winner of the Deutsches Derby-G1 and Britain's Coronation Cup-G1, both run at two miles.)

Kona Gold's dam, Double Sunrise, was by Slew O' Gold, who won seven Grade 1 stakes, none of them at less than a mile and an eighth, including two runnings of the Jockey Club Gold Cup when that race was still a mile and a half. And her dam, How High The Moon, was by Majestic Light, who won seven graded stakes going a distance, including the Man O'War at 12 furlongs.

The resulting pedigree is one of those that throws Steve Roman's Dosage system for a loop. Kona Gold's Dosage Index of 1.31 and Center of Distribution of 0.37 would suggest that he would want to run all day. Yet Kona Gold set new track and stakes records in the shortest race on the Breeders' Cup card in the year 2000, the 6-furlong Breeders' Cup Sprint, which he won in an exhilarating 1:07.77, narrowly holding off the fast-closing filly, Honest Lady.

Kona Gold worked as a stable pony for his former trainer, Bruce Headley, after retirement. The horse had only arrived at Kentucky Horse Park in 2008, moving into the stall vacated by Cigar when that champion moved up into the penthouse once owned by John Henry.

I suppose we never get used to losing these great champions even though we know that in this world, everything that lives, eventually dies.

But when another of your favorites goes, he takes a little piece of you with him.

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