Candy Boy stamped himself as the top contender for the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) when he overpowered a pair of well-regarded Bob Baffert trainees in winning the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. I) Feb. 8 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO).
With a confident Gary Stevens aboard, the long-striding son of Candy Ride stalked the leaders four-wide into the stretch and was up by half a length over Chitu, who gave a game effort in his first try around two turns for Baffert. The final time was a good 1:41.83 for 1 1/16 miles over a fast track.
Disappointing was Baffert's other runner, 6-5 favorite Midnight Hawk, who was in good position on the outside in the drive but had little left in the final sixteenth of a mile. Midnight Hawk finished third in the field of seven 3-year-olds.
C R K Stable's Candy Boy tallied his first stakes win for trainer John Sadler and owners Lee and Susan Searing. They bred the bay colt in Kentucky out of the stakes-winning In Excess mare She's an Eleven, who also raced in California for Sadler and the Searings.
"For a big horse he has a lot of acceleration and confidence on the turn," Stevens said. "I was closer than I thought we were going to be today. He's grown a lot lately, he's grown but he's also grown (mentally), too. I've been up for his last five works and we haven't really squeezed the trigger yet.
"The gallop-out was huge today and I was already thinking about the Santa Anita Derby as we were galloping out around the turn. It was a lot of fun and he didn't even take a deep breath after the race. He's a super talent."
Candy Boy was coming off a runner-up finish by 5 3/4 lengths to Eclipse juvenile champion Shared Belief in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) Dec. 14 in his stakes debut at Betfair Hollywood Park. Candy Boy is listed at 32-1 odds in the latest Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool, which closed shortly before the Lewis was run.
Shared Belief missed the Lewis with a minor foot injury and is just now back to galloping after being given a two-week respite.
Diamond Bachelor won a three-way tussle for the early lead in the Lewis over Chitu, who bobbled at the break, and outsider El Nino Terrible heading into the first turn. Candy Boy, leaving from the rail as the 2-1 second choice, settled into a comfortable fourth on the inside with Midnight Hawk, who pulled jockey Mike Smith a bit in the early going, racing on his outside. Diamond Bachelor, with Julien Leparoux riding, carved solid quarter-mile fractions of :23.33, :46.80, and 1:10.84 and came under strong pressure from Chitu leaving the final bend as Midnight Hawk advanced into third.
As the pacesetter dropped back, Chitu took a narrow advantage in the drive with Martin Garcia aboard, with stablemate Midnight Hawk looming on their outside as they reached mid-stretch. But neither was a match for Candy Boy. The colt charged on the far outside to challenge under left-handed urging from Stevens, who then provided hand coaxing in the final surge to get the advantage over Chitu close to home.
Candy Boy was second to Tap It Rich in his only prior race at Santa Anita, a one-mile maiden heat last October. The most experienced starter in the Lewis field, he registered his second win in six tries while extending his earnings to $305,600.
The victory was Candy Boy's second in three starts after graduating by 8 1/4 lengths at Hollywood three weeks prior to the CashCall Futurity.
"I just wanted Gary to be patient, because (Candy Boy) runs a distance, no problem," Sadler said. "He kind of had a premature move a little bit in the CashCall. I think Gary will tell you that, you know, he moved him a little bit quick. Now he knows him a little better."
Sadler, who won the $200,000 San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT) a race earlier with Vagabond Shoes, said Candy Boy would stay in Southern California for his next start.
Candy Boy carried 118 pounds and paid $6.60, $3.20, and $2.20 while topping a $29.40 exacta. Tanma Cororation's Chitu, a $300,000 son of Henny Hughes who was unbeaten in two starts at six furlongs, returned $5 and $3 in an impressive stakes debut. Sham Stakes (gr. III) winner Midnight Hawk, who was 19-1 in the latest KDFW pool, paid $2.10 to show as the 120-pound highweight.
"He took a misstep (soon after the start), I don't know why," Garcia said of the runner-up. "But he ran a good race, first time going two turns."
Smith was happy with effort of Midnight Hawk, even though the gray/roan son of Midnight Lute was a bit keen early on.
"He was great today, he didn't lug in at all," Smith said. "He was good; he just didn't kick on."
Diamond Bachelor held on for fourth, followed by Home Run Kitten, Cool Samurai, and El Nino Terrible.
Candy Boy picked up 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for the win, while the second, third and fourth place finishers were awarded four, two and one, respectively.