Chocolate Candy is not only the obvious hunch play in the Valentine's Day El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields Feb. 14, he's the solid one as well.
Just seven are entered in the 1 1/8-mile test worth $200,000, Northern California's lead stepping stone to the Triple Crown. Chocolate Candy, coming off a driving 1 3/4-length win in the California Derby over Golden Gate's Tapeta racing surface Jan. 17, will be a prohibitive favorite. The son of Candy Ride has recorded three wins and a third in his last four starts.
Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and owned by Jenny Craig, Chocolate Candy broke his maiden in a one-mile race at Santa Anita on Oct. 4, and then captured the 1 1/16-mile Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Park Nov. 8. Chocolate Candy rallied to finish third in the $750,000 CashCall Futurity (gr. I) Dec. 20 at Hollywood before winning his 2009 debut in the California Derby, which came as the odds-on 9-10 choice.
Like the Real Quiet, the CashCall Futurity, in which Chocolate Candy was beaten by just 1 1/2 lengths by the victorious Pioneerof the Nile, and the California Derby were both run at 1 1/16 miles.
In the California Derby, Chocolate Candy was sixth early in a field of seven and used a quick bid to rally in the homestretch, getting the lead approaching the eighth pole and drawing away from a stubborn Axel Foley. The bay colt will face Axel Foley and third-place finisher Merus Miami again in the El Camino Real.
Bred in Kentucky by Sid and Jenny Craig, Chocolate Candy's sire set a Del Mar track record for 1 1/4 miles (1:59 flat) while winning the $1 million Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar in 2003. Candy Ride won all six of his career starts before chronic ankle problems prompted his retirement from racing.
Chocolate Candy, a Kentucky bred, is out of the Seattle Slew mare Crownette. He has finished in the money in five of his seven races and enters the El Camino Real Derby with $262,500 in earnings. Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze, who rode the colt for the first time in the California Derby, has the call on Chocolate Candy. They will break from the outside post in the field of seven.
Axel Foley, a son of Officer trained by Doug O'Neill for Kent Bloodstock, turned in a game runner-up effort in the Cal Derby, closing willingly along the inside while a clear second by 2 1/2 lengths over Merus Miami. The dark bay colt began his career in England, where he broke his maiden on the synthetic track at Linfield in his second start. Axel Foley ran sixth in the CashCall Futurity, his only other U.S. try.
Merus Miami, owned by West Point Thoroughbreds and trained by O.J. Jauregui, won his first two starts, both at Golden Gate. The son of Friends Lake posted a one-length triumph in the Gold Rush Stakes a month prior to his third-place showing in the California Derby. In the Cal Derby, he made a strong four-wide bid to draw within 1 1/2 lengths of the lead, but tired in the final furlong.
Rendezvous, also trained by Hollendorfer, has won three races in a row. The Victory Gallop colt tries stakes company for the first time following a late-charging half-length win over an optional claiming allowance field at Golden Gate Jan. 16.
Massone ships from Southern California for Ron McAnally off a second-place effort behind Shafted in a first-level allowance at Santa Anita Jan. 2. El Camino Real entrant Aquicksting, a speedster conditioned by Mel Stute, ran third in the same race, but has just a maiden claiming win to show from 17 lifetime starts. Raising Memo steps out of the claiming or starter ranks, where has won twice in seven tries for Swain Racing and trainer Michael Lenzini.
The El Camino Real was previously run at Bay Meadows. In 27 renewals, the race has produced a Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year (Charismatic, 1999); two Kentucky Derby runners-up (Cavonnier, 1996, and Casual Lies,1992), five Preakness Stakes winners (Charismatic, 1999; Tabasco Cat, 1994; Snow Chief, 1986; Tank's Prospect, 1985; and Gate Dancer, 1984); a Belmont Stakes winner (Tabasco Cat, 1994); and a Belmont Stakes runner-up (Ten Most Wanted, 2003).
El Camino Real Derby graduates have made it to Triple Crown races each of the past three years. Cause to Believe, the 2006 El Camino Real Derby winner, finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! (gr. I). Bwana Bull, the 2007 El Camino Real Derby victor, ran 15th in the Kentucky Derby. Tres Borrachos, the third-place finisher in the 2008 El Camino Real Derby, ran ninth in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
$200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III, Race 8, 4:15 p.m), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey
1. Aquicksting (CA), Michael Martinez
2. Raising Memo (CA), Saul Arias
3. Axel Foley (KY), Michael C. Baze
4. Massone (KY), Frank T. Alvarado
5. Merus Miami (KY), Corey S. Nakatani
6. Rendezvous (KY), Roberto M. Gonzalez
7. Chocolate Candy (KY), Russell A. Baze
Each assigned 121 pounds.