Sunday, February 27, 2011

SANTA ANITA HANDICAP WEEK: Amateurcapper features daily offerings leading to a Thorofan post on Santa Anita’s historic handicap

There were 16 nominated at the February 19 closing; Don Dizney’s FIRST DUDE joins the Bob Baffert team of TWEEBSTER, GAME ON DUDE and SPURRIER while usual suspects AGGIE ENGINEER, CARACORTADO, GLADDING, and JERANIMO round out the next tier weighted 117 behind TWIRLING CANDY’s highweight 122.

After my usual foray to Santa Anita Park for the Malibu Stakes (G.I) on Opening Day, December 26, I was loathe to compare TWIRLING CANDY with my memory of SPECTACULAR BID. Trainer Grover “Buddy” Delp trained what he called “the best horse to look through a bridle” to a near-Triple Crown, three divisional championships, and a Horse of the Year title. Through four brilliant races in the winter of 1980 at Santa Anita, ‘BID became the standard by which I view live racing. He was more consistently brilliant that winter than my favorite race horse of all time, AFFIRMED, was the year prior winning the final two events in the same four race sequence.

SPECTACULAR BID held the Santa Anita dirt record at 7 furlongs, set when he won the Malibu Stakes...

...until TWIRLING CANDY ran 1:19.70, nosing G.I winning sprinter SMILING TIGER.

Was the Malibu result so much quality that not one, but two horses ran faster than ‘BID? I wasn’t yet convinced.

TWIRLING CANDY had not achieved the body of work that SPECTACULAR BID did prior to Delp’s decision to invade the Santa Anita graded stakes. In fact, the son of brilliant but brittle CANDY RIDE had been the subject of much discussion last summer when he bolted on the backside in the Del Mar Derby (G.IIT), eliminating longshot SUMMER MOVIE, but he was not disqualified from the win. That unpredictable streak seems to have been rectified by ultra-hot trainer John Sadler and his staff.

I had to see for myself once again, was TWIRLING CANDY for real or simply a mirage? The Strub Stakes (G.II) was, as Trevor Denman would say, “an absolute procession.” In reality, the only horse seeming to “sprout wings” was the winner. TWIRLING CANDY stamped himself as a leading contender for top older horse in the country after the easiest kind of victory, stopping the clock in 1:46.53 for the 1 1/8 miles earning the official Daily Racing Form chart comment “kicked clear under a mild hand ride passing midstretch and was under a snug hold late.”

After the Strub Stakes, I have no doubt that TWIRLING CANDY can run the extra 1/8 mile and get 1 ¼ miles on the first Saturday in March. Clearly, the Craig Family Trust color-bearer is the horse to beat and the most likely winner.

This is still horse racing, a game of chance where odds-on favorites can be defeated. At the top level, there is traditionally less chance of a chaotic outcome. Is there anyone to legitimately contend with TWIRLING CANDY’s hurricane force speed?

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