Utilizing a strong finishing kick, C R K Stable's homebred Candy Boy captured the Grade 2, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita Saturday. The John Sadler-trained colt won going away under Gary Stevens to enhance his Kentucky Derby credentials.
A convincing maiden winner two starts previously, Candy Boy was exiting a runner-up finish to champion two-year-old male Shared Belief in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity December 14. The Lewis marked his first attempt in a "Road to the Kentucky Derby" scoring event and the bay son of Candy Ride netted 10 points for the half-length victory.
"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.
"He's not a typical Candy Ride, he sits higher than others and he continues to grow. The further the better for him. He has a high cruising speed."
Candy Boy rated in fourth along the inside as Diamond Bachelor showed the way into the first turn. The pacesetter was being prompted by Chitu through an opening quarter-mile in :23 1/5, with 6-5 favorite Midnight Hawk up close as well tracking the leaders while wide.
Diamond Bachelor and Chitu continued to race one-two down the backstretch and into the bend, completing a half-mile in :46 4/5 and three-quarters in 1:10 4/5. Candy Boy traveled comfortably while in hand, a couple of lengths behind the early leaders, and was guided off the rail rounding the final turn, dropping back slightly as Stevens ensured clear sailing for the final furlongs.
Chitu seized the lead as Diamond Bachelor gave way entering the stretch drive. Midnight Hawk tried to reel in the leader in midstretch but lacked the needed acceleration, but Candy Boy was just finding his best stride on the outside.
Under left-handed urging, Candy Boy closed impressively to dispose of a game Chitu and completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 4/5 on the fast track. And he galloped out past the finish line in a powerful manner.
"The gallop-out was huge today and I was already thinking about the Santa Anita Derby (on April 5) as we were galloping out around the turn," Stevens said. "It was a lot of fun and he didn't even take a deep breath after the race. He's a super talent.
"I couldn't believe the time. When we were coming back I saw the time was one-forty-one, with the first quarter in twenty-three and change but it felt like we were going twenty-five down the backside. He covers so much ground. When you set him down he really gets underneath you and gives you a really good feeling."
Sadler praised the Hall of Fame jockey.
"Very good (ride by Gary Stevens). I just wanted Gary to be patient, because this horse runs a distance, no problem," the trainer said.
Off as the 2-1 second choice among seven rivals, Candy Boy paid $6.60 to win.
Chitu easily held second, 1 1/4 lengths better than Midnight Hawk in third.
"He (Chitu) was in a good spot and ran a pretty good race," said Bob Baffert, trainer of the runner-up and third-placer. "I think he deserves another chance (on the Kentucky Derby trail) -- maybe slow him down a little bit, maybe take the blinkers off him. The winner's a good horse and was in a good spot. Gary Stevens did a great job."
Midnight Hawk was exiting a victory in the Grade 3 Sham on January 11.
"I liked his race a little better today. He got a little tired there," Baffert said of the beaten favorite. "I backed off him a little (after the Sham) because I'm trying to slow him down a little. I liked the way he sat off horses today. He wouldn't do it before. He's been a little bit of a project mentally to get him back, and he just got a little tired at the end. But he hung in there.
"That's a pretty impressive time. When they run 1:41 and change, those are really good horses. We got beat by a really good horse today."
Diamond Bachelor, Home Run Kitten, Cool Samurai and El Nino Terrible rounded out the order of finish.
Bred in Kentucky by owners Lee and Susan Searing, Candy Boy is out of the stakes-winning In Excess mare She's an Eleven. His third maternal dam, Fabulous Ballet, is responsible for Grade 1 winner Leave Me Alone.
Stevens is looking forward to the future with Candy Boy.
"He's the number one draft choice for me," he said. "That was quite a performance he just put on against some pretty nice three-year-olds. We were quietly confident about him and we were in a good spot.
"He's been giving us all the right signals in the morning. I had high expectations coming into today and he pulled through and surpassed those expectations. I mean, during the gallop-out you're still checking all the gauges and his were all still on full. Further will be better for him, he's really matured mentally. He's very intelligent and that's what separates these horses from the mediocre horses. The lessons he learned over wintertime paid off and I don't think we're even halfway there yet with him."