Chocolate Candy holds off Massone to win the El Camino Real Derby.

Chocolate Candy holds off Massone to win the El Camino Real Derby.

Vassar Photography

No Melting Chocolate Candy in El Camino

Colt gives trainer Jerry Hollendorfer a sweet Valentine's Day gift at Golden Gate.

Chocolate Candy sweetened trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's Triple Crown hopes on Valentine's Day with the colt's first graded stakes win in the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields.

Under a vigorous hand ride from Russell Baze, Chocolate Candy dug in late when challenged on his inside by the improving Massone to register a half-length victory Feb. 14 in the 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds. He was sent off at odds of 1-2.

It was a taxing effort for Chocolate Candy, who raced wide and took a narrow lead on the far turn, then gained control from the retreating Axel Foley to open up a clear advantage in upper stretch. Stablemate Rendezvous, ridden by Roberto Gonzalez, first challenged Chocolate Candy, who repelled that bid near the eighth pole only to face another threat from Massone, advancing when shifted to the inside at the furlong pole by jockey Frank Alvarado.

Baze angled Chocolate Candy toward the inside, allowing the favorite to pick up Massone, who continued to finish well and was nearly on even terms in deep stretch. But the winning son of Candy Ride found more, outfighting Massone to the wire for a narrow victory. The final time was a sharp 1:50.54 on Golden Gate's Tapeta racing surface.

"He was a little too fresh today," said Baze, who collected his sixth El Camino Real Derby win with Chocolate Candy. "I wanted to tuck in behind (Axel Foley) and save a little ground, but he was too fresh and wouldn't let me do it. When he took the lead, I was a little concerned if I had enough horse left, but when I asked him he responded and that was good enough for me. He would have held off (Massone) even if we went around again."

Hollendorfer, who operates stables in both Northern and Southern California, said Chocolate Candy will soon be shipped to his Santa Anita barn and make his next start at the Arcadia track.

"We want to run in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) but we'll also look at the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II)," said Hollendorfer. "There are different approaches to the Kentucky Derby, but I think the fitter the horse the better his chance to win. A lot of people go in there with fewer races, but most horses that do well have a foundation under them."

The $200,000 San Felipe Stakes is a 1 1/16-mile race that will be run March 14. The $750,000 Santa Anita Derby is a 1 1/8-mile contest that will be run April 4.

The biggest disappointment in the El Camino Real Derby was second choice Axel Foley, who  finished a well-beaten fourth at 5-2.

"We were going so comfortable the first part of it, but when we hit the middle of the turn, Chocolate Candy was gone and I was done," said Michael Baze, a second cousin of Russell. "My horse was just empty. I don't know why, but he didn't have it. Horses are like us in that they can have a bad day and I guess he had a bad day today."

Chocolate Candy has posted back-to-back stakes victories at Golden Gate Fields after taking the California Derby Jan. 17. Owned by diet queen Jenny Craig, who bred him along with her late husband Sid, the bay colt has won four of his past five starts. Chocolate Candy's only loss during that span came in a third-place finish in the rich CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at Hollywood Park Dec. 20, where he was just 1 1/2 lengths behind Pioneerof the Nile.

The victory adds $120,000 to his earnings, which stand at $382,500 from a record of 4-1-1 in eight starts.

It was 4 1/2 lengths back to Rendezvous in third. Axel Foley, Aquicksting, and Raising Memo trailed. All carried 121 pounds. Merus Miami scratched.

Aquicksting set a slow pace for the opening half-mile, clicking off fractions of :24.11 and :49.04 before Axel Foley, racing between horses, and Chocolate Candy, on the outside, went to the front at the half-mile pole. Those two dueled to the head of the lane before Axel Foley called it quits and Chocolate Candy assumed control briefly.

Chocolate Candy, out of Crownette, by Seattle Slew, paid $3, $2.20 and $2.10. Massone, a maiden two starts back, continues to show improvement for trainer Ron McAnally, returning $3.60 and $2.80 in a game effort. The $2 exacta was worth $13. Rendezvous, making his stakes debut after three consecutive wins for Hollendorfer, was $3.20 to show.