HALLANDALE, FL, February 12, 2014—Count me among those who were impressed by Candy Boy’s victory in the Robert B Lewis Memorial and underwhelmed with Midnight Hawk on Saturday and in future Grade 1s.

Perfect trip notwithstanding [good horses make their own perfect trips, see Lea], the way he lengthened stride, at and passing the finish line while well within himself [see pricking ears] indicates to me the longer, the merrier.

With the big weekend in South Florida, I did not pay enough attention to the Lewis pre-race; my bad.

But it was my stupid, too, because this was the horse that made that wild middle move in the G1 Cash Call following a tardy start and continued on well enough to finish second behind the undefeated and back-in-training Shared Belief

That move would have buried lesser stock. Gary Stevens wisely took the return call after working him five times, simultaneously learning and teaching.

“I just wanted Gary to be patient,” trainer John Sadler said on TV after the race. Well, he must have said something before the race, too.

Approaching the far turn in the Lewis, Stevens had a cat-bird’s seat of a three-pronged battle directly in front of him and instead of asking his mount when odds-on Midnight Hawk went after the leaders in earnest, Stevens reached down and took another hold.


As the three-ply battle was to continue into the homestretch, Stevens let out a bit or rein, tipped Candy Boy four wide, allowed the colt to gain momentum on his own, rode him in earnest at the eighth pole then allowed his mount to do the rest late.

I’m a figures guy, but this race wasn’t about running time--a very solid 1.41.83 for 1-1/16 miles with a big gallop-out. It was about the manner of victory and power-packed stride. It belied a pedigree that doesn’t scream 1-1/4 miles, as a son of Candy Ride from the In Excess mare, She’s an Eleven.

But Candy Boy’s victory spoke loudly as to ability. Sadler, who doesn’t have a great amount of success when he leaves SoCal, might have a runner that could make that observation moot. I can’t wait to see him run again, and I won’t be surprised if he skips the next dance and awaits the Santa Anita Derby.

But Lochte Is Quicker If Calder-based “claiming trainer” Marcus Vitali wants to get to Disney World by the fastest route, he should pay jockey Orlando Bocachica a pretty penny to handle the driving assignment.

Saturday's Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap was the first Grade 1 win in the careers of both men. Good for them. And good for Lochte, a rapidly developing early season four year old.

Anyone who can read past performances knew that the improving Medaglia d’Oro gelding likes the Hallandale course and his last race, a low level allowances, was a career best from a performance figure perspective.

Vitali realized it, too, and when the grandson of Lemon Drop Kid came back with a bullet blowout at his Miami Lakes base, they assessed the competition and decided to take their shot. B-I-N-G-O!

The event more closely resembled an aspiring Grade 1 than the real deal—not that there weren’t talented runners in the group--but most were proven Grade 2 runners and Grade 1 wannabes. In the case of runners-up Imagining and Amira’s Prince, they're likely to earn G1 status sooner rather than later; both ran well in defeat.

Durkin, Spadaro Back in Action In case you were watching the ponderous opening ceremonies from Sochi and missed it, the boys from Tuscany--harness racing sage Joe Spadaro of Saratoga, and the legendary track announcer from Floral Park--were making some noise in East Rutherford.

Coraggioso, making his second start off a lengthy layoff and having missed a week due to the track’s Super Bowl hiatus, trotted a mile in 1:52 4/5 on the engine throughout while racing into a moderate head wind.

Now in the hands of husband and wife team of trainer Julie Miller and driver Andy, the New York-bred earned a lifetime mark with his victory and never appeared in danger of being defeated in the C1/B2 handicap.

Making some training and warm-up changes to his routine, Coraggioso responded well, trotting the mile one full second faster than A1/FFA handicappers earlier on the card.

In fairness, parenthetically, the FFA handicap was a 5-horse field with a half-mile pace [can you even say that?] 4/5s of a second slower than Coraggioso’s and little or no lead challenges. The time would have been slower still had John Campbell not attempted a mid-race move a la Stevens in the Cash Call.

The effort likely will move Coraggioso into B-1 company, the race scheduled for Friday night.

Will New Meadowlands Get a Casino? Bet on it, even if it needs state-wide approval and support from South Jersey political interests.

There was an interesting editorial in the Bergen Record calling Gov. Christie’s five-year plan for Atlantic City a failed project—this is year three—and endorsing a casino for the new North Jersey sports complex as a better means to fund urban renewal in the state’s major cities.

Increased competition from Pennsylvania and New York have hurt the Atlantic City casinos and the improvements slated for Atlantic City’s revival never materialized and are unlikely to, according to the Record.

A casino in the Meadowlands sports complex is the tonic that can help keep the state’s casino gamblers home instead of crossing the Hudson to play in Yonkers or South Ozone Park (if there are enough lanes open on the GWB to get there, of course).

Plans already are in place with a major casino operator. Once the five-year moratorium against casino expansion is lifted, there will be a ritzy destination casino a short drive from midtown Manhattan. (There’s always the tunnel and Route 3).