Twirling Candy , considered the best of a so-so group of older handicap horses nationally in 2011, will have an opportunity to dazzle his critics as the favorite in the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) July 9 at Hollywood Park.
This will be Twirling Candy's second attempt at the 1 1/4-mile distance. The Craig Family Trust homebred, owned in partnership with Lane's End and Martin Wygod, weakened to fifth as a prohibitive favorite after bumping in the stretch of the roughly-run Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) in his only other try at the trip.
Since then, the 4-year-old son of Candy Ride has raced once, a powerful 1 1/4-length triumph as the odds-on choice in Hollywood's Californian Stakes (gr. II) on the Cushion Track June 4.
Trainer John Sadler expressed confidence in the dark bay/brown colt after Twirling Candy worked seven furlongs in a spritely 1:25 1/5 July 2.
“A mile and a quarter should be no problem,” Sadler said.
The versatile Twirling Candy has won seven of nine races in his career, including the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) on dirt in December and the Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) on grass last summer. He is also three-for-four on Cushion Track, his only loss coming in Oak Tree's 1 1/8-mile Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) in October when he pulled his way to the front and set a lively pace before fading to fourth.
A field of eight is entered in the Gold Cup, including 2010 winner Awesome Gem and a pair of dudes from the Bob Baffert barn: Big 'Cap winner Game On Dude and First Dude . On the same program as the $150,000 Swaps Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds, the Gold Cup is race 8 with a 4:37 p.m. PDT post time.
This year's Gold Cup is a Breeders' Cup Challenge event, with the winner earning a berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.
Blind Luck, last year's champion 3-year-old filly who was nominated by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, was not entered and will apparently run in the Delaware Handicap (gr. II) July 16 instead. That leaves one female runner in the Gold Cup lineup, Argentina-bred mare Miss Match.
Twirling Candy drew the rail for the Gold Cup with regular rider Joel Rosario aboard. The Strub Stakes (gr. II) winner will carry top weight of 122 pounds.
There is not much speed signed on, which could mean Twirling Candy or Game On Dude could be forced into pacesetting duty. First Dude has shown speed in the past but seems better coming from slightly off the pace, which he did in winning the Alsheba Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs by a nose last time out.
Awesome Gem took advantage of similar pace scenario last year when he tagged Rail Trip by a half-length for his only grade I triumph. The 8-year-old was able to rate closer to the front than usual because of a slow pace and used a ground-saving trip to get the job done, rallying from fourth in the final furlong.
Trained by Craig Dollase for West Point Thoroughbreds, the amazing son of Awesome Again has earned $2,568,270 with eight wins and 27 in-the-money performances in 44 lifetime races. This would be his 16th appearance in a grade I race. He will carry 116 pounds in the Gold Cup.
Awesome Gem has raced five times in 2011, winning the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III) May 30. He was second in the Cornhusker Handicap (gr. III) as the favorite at Prairie Meadows in his most recent try June 25. David Flores has the call.
“The horse is in good form and likes the track,” said Dollase. “He has a good shot to defend his title. He bounced back from his trip to Iowa real well. I’ve been real happy with him the last week.”
Awesome Gem seeks to join Native Diver as the oldest horse to win the Gold Cup. He also hopes to join Native Diver and Lava Man as the only horse to win the race more than once in its 72-year history. Native Diver and Lava Man each won it three times.
Baffert sent out both Game On Dude and First Dude to work six furlongs in tandem July 3. First Dude went in 1:11 3/5 and Game On Dude clocked 1:12 1/5.
“The Dudes worked very well; they’re ready,” said Baffert. “We’re going to put Game On Dude on the lead. A mile and a quarter is no problem for him. The distance should not be a problem for First Dude either. He’s like Shaq (Shaquille O’Neill), a big intimidating horse.”
Chantal Sutherland, who rode Game On Dude to victory in the Santa Anita Handicap, is reunited with 4-year-old son of Awesome Again here. In his most recent effort, Game On Dude ran third in the Lone Star 'Cap as the 1-2 choice in a field of five.
Martin Garcia is aboard First Dude, a 4-year-old Stephen Got Even colt that has won two in a row since finishing sixth in the Big 'Cap.
Miss Match, a 6-year-old mare from the Neil Drysdale stable, seeks to become the first female in 43 years to win the Gold Cup. She ran a good third, beaten by less than a length by Blind Luck, in Hollywood's 1 1/8-mile Vanity Handicap (gr. I) June 18.
“She loves the distance,” said assistant John O’Donoghue of the decision to enter her. “And she’s in good form now, coming off a good run.”
Victorious in six of 22 starts for earnings of $606,614, Miss Match won the Argentine Oaks (Arg-I) at 1 ¼ miles in her native land in 2008.
The last female to win the Gold Cup was Princessnesian in 1968, joining Happy Issue in 1944 and Two Lea in 1952. The last female to start in the Gold Cup, Life Is Sweet, finished third in 2009.
Not to be overlooked in the Gold Cup is Setsuko, who split foes late to get up for second in the Californian. Wertheimer and Frere's 4-year-old son of Pleasantly Perfect missed by a nose in the Santa Anita Handicap after taking the worst of the pounding in the homestretch. Trainer Richard Mandella's charge has won just once in 13 lifetime starts but has six seconds and two thirds.
Dark Cove invades from Kentucky for trainer Ken McPeek. The 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro colt has won twice routing on Keeneland's Polytrack and comes into the race off a third in the Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs June 18.
Soul Candy, trained by Paddy Gallagher, ran fourth in the Californian, just a couple of noses behind Setsuko for the runner-up spot.
$500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I, Race 8, 4:37 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Twirling Candy (KY), J Rosario, 122, J W Sadler
2. Miss Match (ARG), J Talamo, 110, N D Drysdale
3. Setsuko (KY), V Espinoza, 115, R E Mandella
4. Game On Dude (KY), C Sutherland, 118, B Baffert
5. Awesome Gem (KY), D R Flores, 116, C Dollase
6. Soul Candy (CA), G K Gomez, 114, P Gallagher
7. First Dude (FL), M Garcia, 116, B Baffert
8. Dark Cove (KY), R Bejarano, 115, K G McPeek