02/06/2011 1:05PM

Twirling Candy = Brilliance

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It seemed like the official sign for the Strub Stakes hadn’t even been posted yet before the proclamations started flowing that Twirling Candy was the best race horse in America. Most of the time, such snap judgments will come back to haunt you. But in this case, how can you disagree?

We’re at a weird point in the racing calendar right now. There is no serious turf racing, and save for the isolated exception, there won’t be for months. Although Dialed In and Tapizar looked good in early-season 3-year-old stakes, the best 2-year-old males of last year haven’t shown themselves yet. That means we simply don’t know if Uncle Mo and To Honor and Serve have made the essential developmental step forward for them to be forces again this season. And unlike in recent years, we don’t have the truly special female performer who can challenge for the title of America’s best horse, at least not at the moment.

So if you are looking to crown a horse the best in action, then at this point in time you have to look at the handicap division. And that’s why Saturday was so interesting. We had most, if not all, of the top older horses in Florida contesting the Donn Handicap, and we had Twirling Candy in the Strub. We had the opportunity to make a fairly immediate comparison, and the contrast was stark.

Giant Oak has never been the sort who has wanted to run past the last opponent in the stretch. Those type of horses invariably have more talent than they are given credit for, but preferring finishing second or third to winning is an unappealing character flaw in a race horse. Maybe after 23 starts and at the age of 5, Giant Oak has found the will to win. But I have to see more before I’m convinced. So until then, I’m taking the way Giant Oak ran away in the late stages of the Donn from Morning Line, Rule, I Want Revenge, and Fly Down less as a signal that Giant Oak has arrived and more as bad news for the latter quartet.

The Strub, on the other hand, hard a far lower degree of difficulty than the Donn. Twirling Candy was, frankly, up against very little. But what was so compelling about the Strub was the overwhelming authority with which Twirling Candy won, while at the same time leaving the powerful impression that he hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of what he can do.

Yes, I know the Donn received a preliminary Beyer Figure of 105 while Twirling Candy got a 101 in the Strub, but there is so much more at play here. Maybe you disagree, but I feel that if you ran that Donn 10 times, you could have as many as five different winners. But you could have run that Strub 100 times, and the only way Twirling Candy wasn’t going to win was if one of his opponents was allowed to cut through the infield.

The bottom line for me is, Twirling Candy possesses an undeniable brilliance that those who contested the Donn just simply do not have. And when given the choice, I go with brilliance every time.