John Sadler and Joel Rosario completed a sweep of the three graded stakes on the opening day program at Santa Anita Dec. 26 when Twirling Candy nosed Smiling Tiger in a thrilling finish to the $250,000 Malibu Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO).
On a lightning fast new dirt surface at Santa Anita, Twirling Candy completed the seven-furlong Malibu in 1:19.70. That broke the old dirt track mark of 1:20 flat established by Spectacular Bid in 1980.
The Malibu was the first grade I victory for Twirling Candy, Jenny Craig's 3-year-old hombred son of Candy Ride --House of Danzing, by Chester House. Twirling Candy was sent off at odds of 7-2.
A race earlier, Craig's prohibitive favorite Sidney's Candy, a stablemate of Twirling Candy in the Sadler barn, romped in the off-the-turf Sir Beaufort Stakes (gr. III). Sadler and Rosario started a three-race stakes win streak with heavy choice Switch in the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies.
Twirling Candy's track mark was the second of the day. In the fourth race, 2-year-old maiden The Factor sped six furlongs in 1:06.98 to break the former dirt mark of 1:07.20 held by Sunny Blossom since Dec. 30, 1989.
Smiling Tiger, ridden by Russell Baze, won a speed duel with Alcindor to take the lead at the top of the stretch. Twirling Candy, three wide rounding the bend, challenged Smiling Tiger on the outside and those two fought it out furiously through the lane before Twirling Candy got up at the wire.
Caracortado, in his first stakes start since being uplaced in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) May 15, came on for third with Joe Talamo aboard, edging Alcindor for the show.
Sadler was home nursing a sore knee and missed his big opening day. Larry Benavidez, his assistant, credited Sadler for sending all three of his winners to Hollywood Park to work out Dec. 23 when Santa Anita was closed for training due to a torrent of rainy weather in the previous week.
"As you can tell, I lost my voice," Benavidez said. "I'm excited. It was just a fabulous day."
Alcindor, racing along the inside for Rafael Bejarano, who won three races eary on the card, took the early advantage over Smiling Tiger, who left the gate from the far outside. Those two showed the way with slight favorite Noble's Promise and Twirling Candy, out the outside, stalking in third and fourth.
Early fractions were quick, :22.72 and :44.69, before Smiling Tiger began to inch away from Alcindor leaving the turn for home. Twirling Candy, up on the outside, engaged Smiling Tiger for the stretch run and gradually wore down an extremely game Smiling Tiger for the narrowest of victories.
"I wanted to wait until the last minute to make my move and he responded really well when I asked him." Rosario said. "He's starting to improve a little more; we'll see what happens later on. The track is staying consistent, but when you're on the best horse like Twirling Candy, it's no surprise that he ran that fast."
Smiling Tiger, a two-time grade I winner this year who was second in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) last month, carried top weight of 123 pounds. Twirling Candy carried 118.
"The horse did everything he could to win the race," Baze said of the runner-up. "He just ran a brilliant race for me. It was just that the track was about this much too long."
It was 3 1/2 lengths to third-place Caracortado, who finished a head in front of Alcindor.
Twirling Candy won the first four races of his career, two of them on turf, including the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) by 3 1/4 lengths Sept. 5.
The lightly-raced Craig Family Trust colt was headed for the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) but the decision was made not to push him after he tired to fourth in the final furlong of Oak Tree's Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) Oct. 2.
Twirling Candy boosted his earnings to $459,900 with the victory, his second in as many tries at seven furlongs.
The winner went off as the narrow second choice and paid $9, $5.40 and $4 and topped a $50 exacta. Smiling Tiger returned $6 and $4. Caracortado was $5.60 to show.
Alcindor was followed by Noble's Promise, who lacked a needed closing kick while racing close up until the homestretch. Thiskyhasnolimit, Setsuko, Don Tito, Thomas Baines, Paris Vegas and Our Minesweeper followed.