Jerry Hollendorfer has 135 horses in training at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, but he has been making regular trips east the past month to keep tabs on the "big" horse in the stable, Chocolate Candy.
The trainer flew to New York three times to supervise workouts as the son of Candy Ride prepared for the June 6 Belmont Stakes (gr. I), and then made the fourth journey across the country the week of the final leg of the Triple Crown.
"Yeah, I’ve been racking up the frequent flier miles," Hollendorfer said the morning of June 4 while Chocolate Candy was being bathed by grooms Galen May and Junior Rodriguez.
Chocolate Candy came to Belmont Park straight from Louisville, Ky., after running fifth in the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Hollendorfer, the dean of Northern California trainers, saw Chocolate Candy work at Belmont May 11 (four furlongs in :47.84), May 18 (six furlongs in 1:13.44), and May 25 (seven furlongs in 1:27.34). He was unable to get back in time for the colt’s final work June 1, when exercise rider Lindsey Molina guided him through a half-mile in :50.25.
"This is a great facility at which to train, and he has done great here," Hollendorfer said. "I guess if he had run better in the Derby we might have run in the Preakness (gr. I), but the Preakness was never in the plans. This was always the plan."
Chocolate Candy was squeezed at the start of Derby and found himself farther behind than in any of his previous nine starts. He wasn’t as far back as eventual winner Mine That Bird, but was compromised enough to not dishearten his trainer.
"Hey, nobody was going to beat Mine That Bird, but I wanted him more forwardly placed," Hollendorfer said. "In the Derby, you can’t make two big runs."
Chocolate Candy, bred by Sid and Jenny Craig and owned by The Craig Family Trust, made a nice run late, closing from 15th to finish fifth, though beaten 13 lengths.
"You have to have some luck in racing; he should have been closer. Considering what happened, I thought he ran well. At the Belmont, I think it is advantageous, not just to him but all the horses, on this track with the wide, sweeping turns."
Mike Smith rode Chocolate Candy in the Derby, but Garrett Gomez will be aboard in the Belmont.
Chocolate Candy is certainly bred for the distance, being by Candy Ride and out of the Seattle Slew mare Crownette. He actually matured early enough to run in a 4 1/2-furlong race last May, but showed distance would be his game when he broke his maiden going a mile and won his first stakes, the Real Quiet, at Hollywood Park in December at 8 1/2 furlongs.
This year, Chocolate Candy won the two big races at Golden Gate, the California Derby and El Camino Real Derby (gr. III), at 1 1/16 and 1 1/8 miles, respectively, before finishing second in the nine-furlong Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).
Remembering another time he brought a top horse to Belmont, back in 1991, Hollendorfer had a good line about rapper MC Hammer. "I think that was the only time I had an owner show up to the races not wearing a shirt," he said.
Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Lite Light was beaten a nose in the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I) by Meadow Star but came back a month later to turn the tables, winning the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) by seven lengths.
"I still have that photo somewhere from the Mother Goose," Hollendorfer said. "It was the closest photo I have ever seen. I still think it was a dead heat and Corey (jockey Corey Nakatani) still says he won the race."
And as for Hammer?
"He was a really nice guy, really personable," Hollendorfer said. "Fun to train for."
At Belmont June 4, the man who has won more than 5,000 races was on the phone checking on the 135 horses he has in California. But, he was hoping the one horse he has in New York would give him his first classic win.