Sidney's Candy overcame a stumble at the start to post an authorative front-running 4 1/2-length victory in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO) April 3, defeating odds-on favorite Lookin At Lucky , who was involved in a mishap on the final turn.
Jockey Joe Talamo, who lost his mount last year on Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) favorite I Want Revenge when the colt was scratched the morning of the race, rode Sidney's Candy to victory. Talamo has ridden Jenny Craig's Craig Family Trust homebred in all six of his races.
Sidney's Candy, a son of Candy Ride out of the Storm Cat mare Fair Exchange, won his third consecutive graded race for trainer John Sadler. Sidney's Candy, sent off as the 7-2 second choice in the field of 10, completed the 1 1/18-mile test in 1:48.
“He actually stumbled a tad at the start, but he is such an unbelievable animal," Talamo said. "He was going through the fractions so easy. Every time the horses came to his hip on the backside, it didn’t really make him want to go. He just stayed the same.
"To have a horse in the Kentucky Derby, any kind of horse, is a tremendous feat. I feel very honored and blessed just to make it back this year, after what happened last year. We’ll see how good he is in the Derby, but the way he handled himself today was unbelievable. He relaxes so well and he does things 3-year olds don’t do.”
The late-running Setsuko charged home at the middle of the track to finish second.
Lookin At Lucky was anything but that. Racing in fourth in tight quarters along the inside, jockey Garrett Gomez was forced to take up severely at the five-sixteenths pole when he was squeezed by the retreating Who's Up and Alphie's Bet to his outside. Lookin At Lucky dropped back to seventh but rallied through the stretch to take third, six lengths behind Sidney's Candy.
According to witnesses, Gomez was involved in a scuffle with Victor Espinoza, the rider of Who's Up, at the weigh-in scale after the race.
"I followed the eventual winner," Gomez said. "I was traveling good, and the next thing I knew, Victor Espinoza came down on top of me and took me into the fence. He had my horse tipped sideways. I mean, it was enough damage where it stopped me completely. And there was no cause for it. Victor was outside the horse that was on the lead, and the outside horse wasn’t putting any pressure on him until he came down and put the pressure on me.
"He was outside the horse on the lead. He couldn’t come over. When he started to get outrun a little bit, he just dropped in and nailed me against the fence. You could hear him right here: ‘I told you I’d get you back.’ That’s why I went after him at the scales because I knew what it was about.
"He completely turned me sideways. But my horse actually got back on his feet. After that, I didn’t want to be super hard on him. I know the quality of horse he is, and when you get stopped to a dead stop like that, there was no need for me to start banging on him in trying to run second or third when I know we’ve got another race ahead."
“In the stretch, it was the other horse (Lookin At Lucky) that bumped me," Espinoza countered. "I was done. But, still, he bumped me right there. In the turn, there’s not much room. I was trying to help as much as I can. But there’s just so much you can do.”
Sidney's Candy did not get away cleanly but quickly took control along the inside while clicking off even quarter-mile splits of :24, :48.50, and 1:12.33 while maintaining a comfortable advantage over Who's Up and Skipshot . As the field made its way around the final turn, Lookin At Lucky advanced along the inside with Caracortado and Alphie's Bet, on the extreme outside, also moving up.
When Who's Up fell back with Espinoza, Lookin At Lucky suddenly ran out of room and Gomez put on the brakes hard as the 4-5 favorite dropped way back.
In the meantime, Sidney's Candy had squirted away to a commanding lead that quickly became insurmountable as he and Talamo approached mid-stretch. Sidney's Candy won under good handling as Setsuko and jockey Rafael Bejarano ran on for second, sweeping past Lookin at Lucky in the final sixteenth.
After breaking his maiden at Del Mar impressively by four lengths last summer, Sidney's Candy is now unbeaten in three starts as a 3-year-old. The robust chestnut colt began his 2010 campaign with a 4 1/4-length romp in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 15. He had little problem stretching out to 1 1/16 miles in his next start, the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) a month later, leading all the way en route to a diminishing half-length win over Interactif.
“He had more in the tank today than last time," Sadler said after what he called the biggest win of his career. "The way he trained up so good and strong, he’s had a perfect week. I was expecting a big race. The nervous part was the start. He stumbled a little bit. After that I was very confident in the sense that they went a realistic pace again which is obviously helping him a little bit and then he had luck.
Sadler said Sidney's Candy is headed for Kentucky. “We’re going to go a little bit early," he said of his shipping plans.
Overall, Sidney's Candy has won four of six races with one second while earning $673,560. The victory, worth $450,000 to the winning connections, wraps up a starting slot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) for Sidney's Candy.
Lookin At Lucky, considered the Derby favorite heading into the West Coast's leading prep for the Run for the Roses, likely lost that mantle to Eskendereya, who romped to victory a little earlier in the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) at Aqueduct.
Baffert blamed Gomez for a bad ride.
“It was bad luck. It was a bad trip," Baffert said. "You can’t be on the inside on this track. (Gomez) took him back and he was fighting him. It was horrendous; his ride was horrendous. It’s unfortunate. The horse is a good horse. That’s the thing about synthetic. They’re not going to go fast. Keep him up there. He’s so afraid to let this horse run early, and it’s a shame, because that’s not Garrett. I don’t know why. He threw an interception.”
Baffert said he could not say if he would replace Gomez. “I’m not going to talk about that right now," he said. "I cannot believe he rode him that way. It’s ridiculous.”
Asked about the inquiry that followed, in which stewards made no change in the order of finish, Baffert said: “I didn’t really care. When I saw him on the rail, I said, ‘What is he doing?’ He must not have seen Jerry Bailey’s tape. We’re going to buy him some DVDs.”
Sidney's Candy paid $9.60, $5.40, and $3 while topping a $99.80 exacta. Setsuko, coming off a runner-up finish in the Sham Stakes (gr, III) in his stakes debut for trainer Richard Mandella, returned $10 and $4.80. Lookin At Lucky paid $2.10 to show.
Caracortado finished fourth, 1 1/4 lengths behind Lookin At Lucky. Then came Skipshot, Alphie's Bet, Thomas Baines, Posse Power, Who's Up, and Cardiff Giant.