Danzing Candy seized the initiative at the start and led wire to wire in Saturday’s $400,345 San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita, defeating a well-regarded group of rivals in his stakes debut. Trained by Cliff Sise Jr. and ridden by Mike Smith, the son of Twirling Candy picked up 50 points in the qualifier and figures to bring serious speed to the Kentucky Derby starting gate on May 7.

The dark bay colt reeled off splits in :22.96, :46.11 and 1:11.04 on a comfortable lead. Exaggerator made a run at the pacesetter nearing the conclusion of the far turn, but Danzing Candy had plenty in reserve and spurted clear once again in midstretch, comfortably scoring by two lengths as Mor Spirit offered a belated bid for second. Exaggerator wound up weakening late to third.

“Our game plan was to put him on the lead unless he didn’t jump out of there well,” Smith explained. “We didn’t want to experiment. We wanted to play our hand, right off the bat. Let’s go to the lead and if they want to go with us, we’ll be probably be going too fast and if that’s the case, that’s the case. We were going to worry about it next time.

“We did it. I left there very aggressive and he didn’t get away with anything...And for him to hold off the caliber of horses he held off, was very impressive.”

The winner completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43.04.

Off as the 5-1 fourth choice in the six-horse field, Danzing Candy has now won three straight in convincing fashion. He broke his maiden in late December at Santa Anita before capturing his first two-turn start over entry-level allowance foes on February 4.

Sise said Danzing Candy will remain in Southern California for his final prep, the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 9. Mor Spirit is also expected to return for the Santa Anita Derby.

Photos courtesy Benoit Photo