Candy Boy came to play in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita last Saturday, posting an impressive victory in his 2014 debut. With champion two-year-old Shared Belief still sidelined by a foot injury, Candy Boy made a compelling case that he's the horse to beat for the Santa Anita Derby on April 5.
Gary Stevens had the mount on the John Sadler-trained colt.
"It was a lot of fun and he didn't even take a deep breath after the race. He's a super talent," the Hall of Fame rider said.
A pair of scoring races will be offered this holiday weekend, the El Camino Real Derby on the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields Saturday and the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park Monday. The two races will complete the Prep Season portion of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" scoring system.
The February 22 Risen Star at Fair Grounds kicks off the Championship Series, with eight races offering points of a 50-20-10-5 scale before the final round of preps begin on March 29.
We'll review the two scoring races and take a look at some Kentucky Derby trends next week.
Robert B. Lewis
Candy Boy received a perfect trip, rating along the inside behind the early leaders before swinging out for the stretch drive, and always appeared in control of the 1 1/16-mile Lewis despite winning by only a half-length margin. Give runner-up Chitu credit -- he dug in gamely on the lead -- but Candy Boy proved much the best.
I don't know how much stock to put into the gallop out, but Candy Boy wasn't close to shutting it down at the wire. He continued powerfully into the first turn while full of run and was still going strong entering the backstretch.
"The gallop-out was huge today," Stevens said.
Candy Boy earned his first win in his penultimate start at two, scoring by 8 1/4 lengths in a two-turn maiden special weight at Santa Anita in mid-October, and recorded a non-threatening second to Shared Belief when stepping up to face winners for the first time in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity December 14.
The son of Candy Ride registered a career-best 97 BRIS Speed rating in the Lewis.
The Lewis competition is in question, with runner-up Chitu perhaps better suited for shorter distances and third-placer Midnight Hawk, the Sham winner and Lewis favorite, performing like a future sprinter as he was rank into the first turn, unwilling to settle. And promising maiden winner Cool Samurai failed to offer any run whatsoever.
Candy Boy rates as a serious Kentucky Derby prospect at this stage, but his pedigree raises some red flags. Candy Ride won at 1 1/4 miles on dirt, but his runners tend to favor less ground. And Candy Boy is out of a mare by In Excess, who established a track record at 10 furlongs but shows only a 6.2-furlong average winning distance (AWD) from his offspring. By comparison, A.P. Indy and Giant's Causeway possess an ADW of 8.2 and 8.3, respectively.
This is also the immediate female family of Grade 1-winning sprinter Leave Me Alone.
But Stevens is quick to dismiss any distance concerns.
"He's not a typical Candy Ride, he sits higher than others and he continues to grow," the jockey said. "The further the better for him. He has a high cruising speed."
An imposing physical specimen, Candy Boy towered over Chitu during the stretch run.
"For a big horse he has a lot of acceleration and confidence on the turn," Stevens said. "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."
Sadler isn't known for shipping horses outside of California and has lost 18 straight races at Churchill Downs, including unplaced finishes from Sidney's Candy and Line of David in the 2010 Kentucky Derby. But he has captured past editions of the Grade 1 Humana Distaff (Mona De Momma) and Grade 3 Derby Trial (Hurricane Ike) under the Twin Spires.
The trainer is also very bullish on Candy Boy's prospects at longer distances.
"I just wanted Gary to be patient because this horse runs a distance, no problem," Sadler said.
Candy Boy could continue to impress in the Santa Anita Derby.
Kentucky Derby Top 10
- Top Billing -- Allowance winner looks ready for stakes debut Fountain of Youth; McGaughey seeking two straight wins in Kentucky Derby.
- Cairo Prince -- Holy Bull romper will await the Florida Derby for McLaughlin.
- Candy Boy -- Opened sophomore season with an excellent win in Lewis; Sadler charge heading to Santa Anita Derby next.
- Commissioner -- A.P. Indy colt returned from lengthy layoff to defeat salty allowance field; will try stakes company in Fountain of Youth.
- Strong Mandate -- D. Wayne Lukas appears to have Grade 1 winner primed for 2014 bow in the Southwest.
- Samraat -- New York-bred colt exits sharp victory in Withers; Violette will likely point him toward Wood Memorial.
- Honor Code -- Encouraging to see the talented late runner return to the worktab this week.
- Shared Belief -- Hollendorfer said two-year-old champ is back in training; waiting for gelding's first breeze.
- Conquest Titan -- Holy Bull runner-up is an interesting prospect for Casse; Fountain of Youth next.
- Tap It Rich -- Maturity issues are a concern but won't count him out yet for Baffert; returns in an allowance this week.