A sleepy training track in Bonsall, Calif,. got a taste of Derby Fever April 30.
With a group of 15 onlookers sporting red "DC" baseball caps and a local television camera man outside of one of the stalls, a groom in the Cliff Sise barn at San Luis Rey Training Center looked down the shedrow quizzically.
"Ay, caballo famoso," he said.
The onlookers, mostly composed of the horse's ownership group, watched with great interest as San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) winner Danzing Candy made his way to the track and logged his final timed workout for the May 7 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
"It's a good thing the horse isn't working another time," one crimson-capped member of the entourage said. "We'd have to sell tickets."
The Twirling Candy colt did his best to impress his connections, breezing through five furlongs in :59 4/5 with a gallop out to six furlongs in 1:13 2/5. Sise wanted Danzing Candy to go a bit slower—he told exercise rider Rolando Quinonez he was looking for "a minute and change" before the drill—but the speedy colt breezed so easily, the trainer couldn't be too bothered. Fast horses tend to work fast.
"He just does it that way sometimes," Sise said of Danzing Candy, who would be the trainer's first Derby starter.
The easygoing trainer admittedly and noticeably was a bit uncomfortable with the attention, even with the relatively small group hanging around his barn.
"If everything goes perfect, perfect, perfect, then I'll get excited when we walk over (at Churchill Downs)," Sise said. "The Derby is the Derby, and you've got to be perfect that day."
As for the workout, Quinonez gave a glowing review.
"Honestly, it didn't feel like (:59 4/5). He was just galloping," Quinonez said of the workout, which was the second fastest of 17 runs at the distance Saturday and earned the rare "breezing" tag from the clockers at San Luis Rey.
One onlooker, co-owner Jim Bashor, was also impressed.
"Just absolutely perfect," said the resident of nearby La Jolla, Calif., who owns Danzing Candy in partnership with his wife, Dianne, and breeder Halo Farms. "We like to come out and see him. We're just honored—it's an absolute honor—to run in the Kentucky Derby. Twenty-two thousand babies are born every year, and 20 make it to the Derby. That makes it very special."
Danzing Candy will ship out of California May 2, but as far as his prospects go in the Derby, in which he is expected to set the pace, he figures to be a longshot. He has raced exclusively at Santa Anita Park and Del Mar in his five-race career and hasn't shipped.
It's also hard to reconcile his two Derby preps—a standout victory in the San Felipe, when he impressively defeated fellow Derby runners Mor Spirit and Exaggerator , and the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) won by Exaggerator on a sloppy track. He set unsustainable fractions (:45.24 for a half-mile and 1:10.12 through six furlongs) in the Santa Anita Derby and tired to finish fourth.
The hope is, on a dry track, Danzing Candy can put in a San Felipe-like run.
"It was way too fast," Sise said of the Santa Anita Derby. "If I see :45 1/5, I'm going to start walking back to the barn."