Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Big ‘Cap Needs Twirling Candy To Win
LOS ANGELES, March 1, 2011--Some nice horses have won the Santa Anita Handicap the last several years. Milwaukee Brew and Lava Man, who joined John Henry as the only horses to win the race twice. Einstein, a force to be reckoned with on grass as well as dirt. But when it came to the national stage, all of them came up short. The last Big 'Cap winner to be voted Horse of the Year was Tiznow, and he won the race the year after he captured the title. More recent Big 'Cap winners have also come up empty in the Breeders' Cup. Milwaukee Brew was third, Lava Man seventh, and Einstein third and 11th. Last year, the third-place finisher in the Big 'Cap, Dakota Phone, won a Breeders' Cup race--the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. Not enough to revitalize the Big 'Cap's reputation.
They'll run the Santa Anita Handicap for the 74th time on March 5. Champions like Alysheba, John Henry, Spectacular Bid, Affirmed, Ack Ack, Round Table and Seabiscuit have won the Big 'Cap, but it's been a while since a horse of their stature did it. Enter Twirling Candy, stage left. He could be the real goods. Another win at Santa Anita and he'll be the early favorite for the Breeders' Cup Classic in the fall. If Twirling Candy wins the Big 'Cap, Santa Anita's premier race has the chance to be the stepping stone for champions again.
Twirling Candy's most recent win came in the Strub, a 4 1/2-length canter that left the rest of the field coming up for air. All his jockey, Joel Rosario, needed was a hand ride. The late Jim Murray, my old colleague, would have said that it was as one-sided as an avalanche. The Strub, which always seemed like a natural prep for the Big 'Cap, no longer plays out that way, but Twirling Candy could change all that. The last horse to post a Strub-Big 'Cap double was Rock Hard Ten, six years ago.
The late Sid Craig and his wife Jenny bred Twirling Candy. Last month, the Will Farish family's Lane's End Farm and Marty Wygod bought into the horse. The Farishes are envisioning the day when Twirling Candy joins his sire, Candy Ride, at their Kentucky farm. Wygod, whose large breeding operation has left California in favor of Kentucky, is covering all his bases. He owns a substantial interest in Candy Ride.
Sadler, who is hotter than that feline on the tin roof this winter, is in what might seem to be a ticklish spot in the Big 'Cap, since he has another horse, Gladding, ready to run off his win in the San Antonio Handicap. When Charlie Whittingham, who won the Big 'Cap a record nine times, sent more than one horse into the race, he would bray, "We've got 'em surrounded." Sadler is not into braying any more than braggadocio, but he has little choice with Gladding, who has won both starts in California since he was bought by Lee and Susan Searing, Sadler clients, and exorcised from Calder. "All you have to do is touch John Sadler and you're lucky," Lee Searing says.
After Gladding won the San Antonio on the front end, Sadler was asked about running both horses in March. "I guess I've got to come out and say, 'Gladding will kick the crap out of Twirling Candy,'" he said.
Trainers with pat hands can crack wise all they want to. But to my surprise there will be 10 or 11 horses running in the Big 'Cap, including one who has only a maiden win in 11 starts. Twirling Candy, who paid just 50 cents on the dollar in the Strub, will be pounded ever more at the windows this time. The shortest winning price ever was Round Table, who paid $2.30 for a deuce in 1958.
My favorite Big 'Cap came in 1985, but it had nothing to do with Lord At War, Charlie Whittingham and Bill Shoemaker, who was riding the winner of the race for his 11th and last time. It had everything to do with my just getting to Santa Anita to cover it. The day before, at Gulfstream Park, almost 3,000 miles away, I had watched Proud Truth win the Florida Derby and wrote about it. Early on the morning of the Big 'Cap, I boarded an early flight out of Miami, with a three-hour time switch in my kick. Miami and a brief plane switch in Dallas, how could there possibly be any weather delays? There weren't, but both planes had mechanical problems that took hours to fix. When I finally got off the second plane at LAX, it was late afternoon and I was still 35 miles away. I pulled into the Santa Anita parking lot as the horses neared the starting gate. I watched Lord At War win from the winner's circle. Not the best place to view a race, but handy as hell for interviews.