With the sire Candy Ride shooting out stakes winners left and right, it may be a little confusing to keep straight all the little Candies running around; but make no mistake about it, there is one son of Candy Ride that towers above the rest, and is looking to cement himself as not only the best in the west, but the best, period. His name is Twirling Candy, and he is already in the running for Horse of the Year 2011. This Saturday, he will try to conquer the classic distance in the most storied of all races in California, the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap.
Already a winner of 6 of 7 starts, with graded stakes victories on the dirt and turf, Twirling Candy will enter the Santa Anita Handicap as the heavy favorite. The 4-year-old colt has won at every distance from 6 ½ furlongs to 1 1/8-miles, (And in fact, broke Spectacular Bid’s track record going 7 furlongs at Santa Anita) but has never stretched out over 1 ¼-miles. Should he pass this test, he will debunk all doubters and stand as the early favorite for the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic this fall. (Yes, we’re already thinking that far ahead in this guy’s case.) Winner of the Grade I Malibu, Grade II Strub Stakes, and Del Mar Derby, Twirling Candy’s resume would be sweetened by the addition of a victory in the historic Big Cap.
His presence here is so imposing, most of the trainers and owners entering their opponents have admitted they are running for second money. Bob Baffert will send four of his chargers into the fray: Tweebster, who has already been spun once on his heels by Twirling Candy, and First Dude, Game On Dude, and Spurrier. Tweebster has the biggest upside of all of these, but it’s the Patrick Gallagher-trainee Aggie Engineer that may be the biggest challenger to the champ; winner of the Grade II San Pasqual and Grade III Native Diver, this 6-year-old gelding has racked up 7 wins in 18 starts.
Can a Grade I stakes with 11 entrants really be called an exhibition race for high-weight Twirling Candy? Let’s face it, none of the horses in this race are what you would call worthy challengers; but anything can happen in a race, especially a large one, as the Big Cap traditionally is. As there is nary a Grade I-winner stepping up to challenge him, the fastest gunslinger in the West looks to be having it all his way. Won by such revered champions as Seabiscuit, Spectacular Bid, Affirmed, John Henry, and Lava Man, Twirling Candy will be knocking on the door of the Greats when he saddles up for the challenge of his life in the Santa Anita Handicap. In a sense, the only way he can be beaten is by himself.
Meanwhile, the Road to the Kentucky Derby will roll on in two different forms: a traditional graded stakes prep race in New York, and an optional claiming race at Gulfstream. This Saturday will mark the 58th running of the Grade III Gotham Stakes, the prep for the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. The favorite for the Gotham will likely be the stablemate of Uncle Mo, Stay Thirsty. This colt was a buzz horse as a 2-year-old, but hasn’t started since his disappointing 5th-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. His biggest foe will be Toby’s Corner, entering the Gotham off a 3-race win-streak, including the Whirlaway here at Aqueduct. Also entered in the fray is Preachintothedevil, who won the Champagneforashley overnight stakes at the same track before finishing third in the Whirlaway. If Stay Thirsty wins this race, he will convince his connections he deserves to stay on the road to Kentucky; but as Uncle Mo will ultimately run in the Wood Memorial, Stay Thirsty will likely head south to run in the Florida Derby.
Sunday at Gulfstream, the impressive winner of the Grade III Holy Bull will return in an optional claiming race. Race 4 is actually for horses 3 years old and up, meaning that Dialed In will be facing older horses for the first time in only his third lifetime start. Trainer Nick Zito has been scrambling to find a 2-turn allowance race for the colt ever since his charge won the Holy Bull, in preparation for the Grade I Florida Derby. While he got the race he was asking for, trying his luck against older horses will be no cinch. With Dialed In’s from-the-clouds running style, it will also be harder to make the jump on this small field. Regardless, this will serve merely as a stepping stone to the big enchilada, and Dialed In doesn’t need to win to get something out of it to move forward.