Twirling Candy enhanced his growing reputation as perhaps the best handicap horse in the nation when he overcame traffic problems to run down the field in the $150,000 Californian Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) at Hollywood Park June 4.
Allowed to fall out to the rear of the seven-horse field by jockey Joel Rosario when trapped along the inside leaving the backstretch, odds-on pick Twirling Candy charged through the lane on the outside to register a visually impressive 1 1/4-length victory.
The 4-year-old son of Candy Ride completed the 1 1/8-mile test in a so-so 1:50 on the Cushion Track while defeating his Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) rival Setsuko. The runner-up won a three-horse photo for the place spot over a pair of Paddy Gallagher trainees, Aggie Engineer and Soul Candy.
In winning the Californian, Twirling Candy showed he can come from off the pace. He stamped himself the strong favorite for the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) July 9, if trainer John Sadler decides that's where he wants to go next with his supremely talented colt. Sadler said afterward that he would meet with Twirling Candy's owners -- breeder Jenny Craig, Will Farish, and Martin Wygod -- before determining the next step.
"He’s just a very very good horse, a very gifted horse," Sadler said. "And he’s exciting, too. It was a little puzzling to see him that far back, but then they kind of wanted to box him in, you know, which is race riding. Joel just stayed nice and cool. I’m happy to win this one today and look down the road. The Gold Cup probably will be next.”
This was the first start since a trouble-marred effort in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 5 for Twirling Candy, who broke from the rail in the Californian and settled in fourth in a pocket while pulling Rosario along on the inside. Twirling Candy raced without blinkers for the first time with Sadler hoping his charge would be able to relax a little better than he did in the Big 'Cap.
Outsider Victory Pete, tracked by Aggie Engineer and Setsuko on his outside, clicked off soft quarter-mile fractions of :24.60, :49.49, and 1:14.22.
Lacking room nearing the bend, Rosario attempted to angle Twirling Candy off the rail a bit but found nowhere to go as Soul Candy slid up along his inside, thereby tightening the situation even further. Rosario showed no sign of panic, however, and Twirling Candy cooperated by shuffling to the back of the field.
They floated out between horses out of the turn, where Twirling Candy had just one horse beaten leaving the three-sixteenth pole. Aggie Engineer, ridden by Joe Talamo, took charge briefly over the tiring Victory Pete past mid-stretch as Twirling Candy wound up for his big kick.
Twirling Candy swept past a couple of rivals and angled farther to the outside to avoid the heels of the rallying Setsuko and Victor Espinoza, then set sail for home under a brisk hand ride. Fifth at the eighth pole, he gained the lead in deep stretch and went under the wire under a long hold from Rosario.
"They were going too slow up front," Rosario said. "I was waiting a little on the backside and he was a little farther behind than I thought he’d be. There were horses in front of me and I was between horses. The rest of the riders knew my horse was the horse to beat and they were trying to keep him down in there.
"He was very relaxed without the blinkers. On the turn, I was taking my time with him getting him to the outside. He can do anything. When he sees horses in front of him he just goes and gets them.”
Twirling Candy earned his first victory since taking the Malibu (gr. I) and Strub (gr. II) stakes in succession at Santa Anita this winter. In the Santa Anita Handicap that followed, he was involved in heavy bumping through the stretch and tired to finish fifth as the 1-2 pick.
Winner of the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) on grass last summer, Twirling Candy' scored his first victory when facing older horses and his initial win two-turning at Hollywood, where he won the first two races of his career in sprints. He is now three-for-four on the Cushion Track.
Overall, Twirling Candy, who is out of the Chester House mare House of Danzing, has seven wins in nine lifetime starts with earnings of $684,900. He carried co-high weight of 118 pounds to victory as the 2-5 choice and paid $2.80, $2.20, and $2.10.
"We took the blinkers off because we wanted to see him relax," Sadler said. "He trains without the blinkers in the morning. It was a slow pace and Joel, you’ve got to give him a lot of credit; he just let him settle and didn’t get panicked. Once he got him out we knew he’d pick them up."
Setsuko was another one of the horses involved in the Big 'Cap fracas, getting the worst of it before recovering to finish an ultra-game second by a nose to Game On Dude. The Wertheimer and Frere homebred son of Pleasantly Perfect settled for second once again for trainer Richard Mandella by a nose in the Californian, paying $2.80 and $2.60. The exacta was worth $9.20.
“I think it was a good race for him," Espinoza said of the runner-up. "He’s been out for a little while and Richard will have this horse set up for the next one. My horse ran big, but the other horse is really good.”
Aggie Engineer, showing big improvement over his ninth-place effort last time in the Big 'Cap, finished a nose in front of Soul Candy and paid $3.60 while also shouldering 118 pounds.
Soul Candy was followed by Spurrier, Honour the Deputy, and Victory Pete. Gladding, a stablemate of Twirling Candy and expected to be a part of the pace scenario, was scratched by Sadler.