Bruce Headley, a thoroughbred trainer for more than 60 years, including training 2000 Eclipse Champion sprinter Kona Gold, died Friday at Arcadia Methodist Hospital from the effects of a stroke. He was 86.
Born Feb. 17, 1934, in Baldwin Park, Headley was introduced to racing at Santa Anita Park by an aunt when he was 6 years old. At 16, he was cleaning stalls and walking horses at the Suzy Q Ranch in La Punete, working alongside future legendary jockey Willie Shoemaker.
Headley became a licensed trainer when he was 25, getting his first victory on Sept. 29, 1959, when the first horse he owned, Thorium, won at the Los Angeles County Fair.
The highlight of Headley’s career came when Kona Gold, who he owned in partnership with Irwin and Andrew Molasky, won the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs.
Kona Gold debuted at age four, winning 14 times in 30 starts, with seven second-place finishes and two third-place finishes, earning $2.293 million.
Kona Gold ran in a record five Breeders’ Cup Sprints, his final Sprint appearance being a fourth-place finish at Arlington Park at age 8 in 2002. At age 9, he won Santa Anita’s Grade 3 El Conejo Handicap.
Headley trained two of the four horses to have won graded stakes races at Santa Anita at age 9. Softshoe Sure Shot, the winner of the 1995 Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap, was the other.
Headley had 902 victories, including 123 stakes races, in 6,121 starts with more than $38 million in earnings.
Headley rode as many as 10 to 15 of his horses each morning at Santa Anita until about 10 years ago. Heart issues the past two years prompted him to greatly reduce his stable.
Headley had one start in 2021, a third-place finish by Zillinda in the sixth race at Santa Anita last Friday. He has two horses entered on Saturday’s card, Brace for Impact in the first race and Tallemark in the second.
“He’s a throwback to the old days, a pure horseman through and through,” Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron tweeted Friday. “An excellent caretaker, a great family man, and a heck of a human being.”
Headley is survived by his wife Aase, who he met at Golden Gate Fields in 1959 and married in 1962 and was always quick to credit for his success. Their partnership also included local real estate holdings, and sizeable art and automobile collections.
Headley is also survived by his daughter Karen and son Gus, both trainers at Santa Anita and Los Alamitos Race Course.
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