Danzing Candy a sweet winner of the San Felipe

Profile Picture: James Scully

March 13th, 2016

Danzing Candy jumped into the Kentucky Derby picture with a smashing two-length victory in Saturday’s $400,345 San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita, leading wire to wire in his stakes debut. Trained by Cliff Sise Jr., the dark bay colt has now captured three straight races in convincing fashion beneath Mike Smith.

“He warmed up great, he was on his toes,” Smith said. “Our game plan was to put him on the lead unless he didn’t jump out of there well. We didn’t want to experiment. We wanted to play our hand, right off the bat. Let’s go to the lead and if they want to go with us, we’ll be probably be going too fast and if that’s the case, that’s the case. We were going to worry about it next time.

“We did it. I left there very aggressive and he didn’t get away with anything...And for him to hold off the caliber of horses he held off, was very impressive.”

The winner picked up 50 points in the qualifier, defeating a couple of well-regarded rivals already well-positioned on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Mor Spirit had a two-race stakes-winning streak halted but rallied belatedly to be a solid second, three-quarters of a length better than a weakening Exaggerator in third.

After breaking tardily in a couple of previous starts, Danzing Candy had no issues leaving the starting gate and sped forward to take a short lead into the clubhouse turn. He led by 1 ½ lengths after an opening quarter-mile in :22.96 and was two lengths clear after a half-mile in :46.11. Uncle Lino chased the pacesetter in second, with I Will Score and Smokey Image right behind him.

Danzing Candy continued to travel comfortably with a short lead rounding the far turn, but Exaggerator launched his bid from the back of the field and advanced to loom a threat approaching the top of the stretch. But Smith had more in reserve as they straightened for home and Danzing Candy surged clear once again after being given his cue, opening up by a couple of lengths in midstretch.

The only suspense was for second as Danzing Candy finished with “plenty left in the tank” according to track announcer Frank Mirahmadi, completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.04.

“I expected him to be on the lead. We didn’t want to experiment in this race,” Sise said. “Mike just said, ‘I’ll let him come out the first few jumps and if he’s there, he’s there. If somebody sends, he’ll sit second.’ He left much better today. He’s good now.“

“I was pretty impressed with the caliber he showed today and the (fractions) that he put up,” Smith added. “He’s flashy in the afternoon. He’s so easy on himself in the mornings and that’s a good thing. If he was a bit too aggressive in the morning it would probably take its toll on him. He’s a big horse. He’s still carrying a lot of flesh on him. There’s room to trim him down as we get closer to the Derby and we’re doing it little by little. He’s handling everything. He’s a big, beautiful horse and he’ll start tucking up as we get closer.

“We don’t do much with him. There’s room to tighten those screws, tighten him up.”

Jockey Gary Stevens was also pleased with the effort of Mor Spirit.

“I’m super happy, because he was way too keen in the early part of the race – he was really fresh, hasn’t run for a while,” Stevens said. “He was super sharp. As I was coming into the lane, I knew I wasn’t going to catch the winner, but I knew we had to get some (Kentucky Derby) points here. I like where we’re sitting for the Santa Anita Derby (G1). I lost a battle today, but I like our position. Bob (Baffert) was happy, so I’m happy. We got a lot out of today’s race. He’ll settle a little better for me in the Santa Anita Derby.”

Sise confirmed that Danzing Candy will also point to the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 9.

“We’ll stay for the Santa Anita Derby,” the trained said. “He’s three for three on this track. Why would we change now? I don’t see any reason to, but you never know. You’ve got to leave that up to the owners.”

Off as the 5-1 fourth choice in the six-horse field, Danzing Candy returned a $13 win mutuel. Mor Spirit was favored 8-5, with Exaggerator next at 2-1. It was a 7 ¼-length gap from Exaggerator back to Uncle Lino, with Smokey Image and I Will Score rounding out the order.

A claim of foul was lodged by the rider of Uncle Lino against Exaggerator for interference on the far turn, but it was disallowed by the stewards.

After dropping his career debut following a slow start, Danzing Candy rebounded to break his maiden by 3 ¼ lengths going 7-furlongs at Santa Anita on December 26. He stretched out to two turns with a 5 ¾-length triumph over entry-level allowance foes on February 4 and has now earned $308,650 from four starts.

Danzing Candy was bred in Kentucky by Halo Farms, who campaigns him with Jim and Diane Bashor. The talented 3-year-old is from the first crop of sire Twirling Candy and hails from the Songandaprayer mare Bendita, a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner Better Talk Now, a five-time Grade 1 scorer and earner of more than $2.4 million. There’s plenty of stamina in the female family for longer distances.

Danzing Candy photos courtesy of Benoit Photos