06/05/2011 11:33AM

Twirling Candy, Noble's Promise, and Other Stuff

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After months of hand wringing over the sad state of the handicap division, and with recent concerns over the status of the male sprint division (defending champion and divisional leader Big Drama is out until late summer, and no one has stepped up in his absence), we were offered real hope Saturday.

Twirling Candy won the Californian at Hollywood Park, which surprised hardly anyone as he went off at 2-5, and Noble’s Promise took the Aristides at Churchill Downs, which threw few as he was hammered down to 8-5. But their victories helped restore some clarity and order.

Twirling Candy was making his first start in three months, his first start ever without blinkers, and was asked to demonstrate a heretofore unseen dimension, and yet was still about 10 times better than his win margin of 1 ¼ lengths would suggest. Twirling Candy, a free (maybe too free) running sort who has always operated near the pace going long, was hard held off a slow pace, much, it appeared at times, to his consternation. He was still far closer to last than first in mid stretch, having to angle out over heels for racing room. And then when he got that room … my, oh my. With a breathtaking turn of late foot that you rarely see in main track races, Twirling Candy just inhaled his field in a matter of strides while barely being asked to run. This was a stark, but welcome reminder that when Twirling Candy performs like this, there might not be another horse in America who is his equal. It was also a compelling argument that perhaps it is best to overlook his misstep in the Big Cap earlier this year.

Noble’s Promise wasn’t as impressive as Twirling Candy, but he did good work. Every now and then, Atta Boy Run runs out of his mind, and Saturday was one of his “on” days. And Capt. Candyman Can, a Grade 1 stakes winner, moved in upper stretch like he was going to win. But Noble’s Promise reeled in Atta Boy Roy and outkicked Capt. Candyman Can to win the Aristides decisively. Of course, Noble’s Promise is a Grade 1 stakes winner himself who had a couple of entertaining battles with two-time Eclipse Award winner Lookin At Lucky. In other words, Noble’s Promise is a quality individual, one who is now poised to make a big impact on the sprint division from this point forward.

It should come as no surprise that Graham Motion and Dale Romans, the trainers of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and Preakness winner Shackleford, last week defended this year’s 3-year-old crop that has widely been labeled as average at best. These fellows are not exactly objective observers. They spend almost every day with these horses, and it is their hard work that has enabled these colts to succeed at the highest levels of this game. If they can’t be cheerleaders for their classic-winning 3-year-olds, and by extension this 3-year-old crop, who can be?

It should also be noted that Motion and Romans also have a vested interest in improving the perception of this 3-year-old crop. Animal Kingdom and Shackleford will eventually retire from racing and stand at stud – let’s hope that doesn’t happen until they at least complete full 4-year-old campaigns – and it is just a fact that if breeders agree that these colts were merely best of a bad crop, then they won’t be as valuable as stud prospects as they would be if they were classic winners from a crop perceived as strong. There is serious money at stake here, so it is understandable that there is a little salesmanship going on.

In fairness, one can’t truly judge the strength of a 3-year-old crop until the fall at the earliest when they finally face older horses in meaningful situations. And even then, you only have a small handful of samples to go on. But there are other means of getting an early line on the relative merits of a 3-year-old crop. For example, Animal Kingdom’s winning 103 Beyer Figure in the Kentucky Derby was the third lowest in the 20 years Beyer figures have been published for the race. Shackleford’s 104 Beyer in the Preakness tied for the fourth lowest in 20 years of Beyers for the race. Heck, not a single final Triple Crown prep this year even had a triple digit Beyer Figure. Yes, these 3-year-olds will run faster as they mature. If they don’t, then they really are a bad bunch. But right now, this is not a fast crop, and is there anyone left who doesn’t believe in the correlation between running fast and being good?

Apparently, trainer H. James Bond is not a believer. Colleague Dave Grening quoted Bond as saying “Time only counts in jail” (man, that crusty old saw is like nails down a blackboard for me) after Bond sent out Tizway to win last Monday’s Met Mile in a sizzling 1:32.81 for an excellent Beyer of 113. All I know is, even though he won by 2 ¾ lengths, if Tizway ran just a teeny tiny little bitty second slower than he did, Bond wouldn’t have met him in the winner’s circle.

Ranagulzion More than 1 year ago
Good article Mike. Twirling Candy definitely has enormous talent but needs to deliver when facing real competition. He has failed twice in this regard but could now be ready to put it all together this summer. The real competition will be at Saratoga. Can he deliver against the likes of Tizway, Friend or Foe, a rejuvinated Rail Trip, Admiral Alex (can't wait for this one's seasonal debut) or his stable companion Sidney's Candy? TC has a lot to prove. Noble's Promise looks like a live challenger in the Sprint division but its going to be a rough ride for him when big bad Big Drama returns. I wonder what Godolphin is doing with Vineyard Haven, Regal Ransom and Girolamo. These horses are genuine Grade 1 class horses that would heat up to older horses division if they were taken of the shelve raced. Such a waiste of horse talent and money. Regarding the quality of the 3YO crop, a few of the leading lights, Animal Kingdom, Nehro and Dialed In have pedigrees that suggest rapid improvement over the summer and fall therefore it may be wise to suspend judgment. In the Belmont stakes Animal Kingdom looks strong and I don't expect Shckleford to last the trip. However Santiva strikes me as the one that coud take over the lead once Shacleford has shot his bolt, and he's tenacious enough to stave off Animal kingdom's late rattle.
pittsburgh jd More than 1 year ago
Twirling candy was freakish on saturday, no doubt. But still wonder if he will do his thing at a mile and a quarter. The horse i was really impressed with also was Friend or Foe, to reel in a lone on the lead and game Rail trip was very tough. I think that longstriding SOB will be super tough at longer distances if he bounces out of that tough effort well. High cruising speed and gameness sounds like an older Shackleford.
Aaron from Louisville More than 1 year ago
Rail Trip and Sidney's Candy ran triple digit Beyers, in defeat, on the lead. The older male handicap division is starting to heat up now too. It's very exciting to see good horses run good races.
Mooch More than 1 year ago
MW.....What about Prime Cut in the Belmont? I read somewhere that he was going to enter but don't see him on your odds. He might want to play "Flashpoint" in the Belmont. I know he doesn't have a chance being between a rock and a hard place with Shackleford being the Rock and 1-1/2 over Big Sandy being the hard place. And even though he will resemble "Ricks Natural Star" in the Breeders Cup I will pay attention to anything that has speed to see how the race shapes up early. First Shackford and Prime Cut were "probable", then Shack wasn't certain but Prime was in, then neither one of them were certain, then Prime was out and Shack was in, now their both in. Other than Breeders Cup and Triple Crown I never look at entries until I get the Racing Form so is this in and out thing normal? Are these Trainers attention starved for more press? (MW - Revised "future book" Belmont Stakes odds including Prime Cut are now up on the website. And yes, the hemming and hawing regarding participation is normal for the Belmont because of the nature of the race when a shot for the Triple Crown is not at stake. You don't see as much of it for, say, the Derby, or the big Breeders' Cup races.)
Mooch More than 1 year ago
I thought that Twirling Candy would get a bad trip trying to rate. I could just see him uncomfortable trapped on the rail pulling and ranking, trying to get clear. That's why I bet Aggie Engineer. I had it all right and even stopped watching Candy and started watching who else was a threat. I thought I had a winner until Candy came running on the outside. I guess I shouldn't of taken my eyes off of him but I did so there was no one to help hold him back As far as the Trainers of AK and Shak; It wouldn't be so bad to be known as a Trainer that won a Triple Crown Race with just an average horse, even if it was against other average horses. Even with good crops like Affirmed and Secretariat, with Affirmed there was no margin for error and you have to give extra credit to Trainer and Jockey whereas Secretariat could of had P.T. Barnum training him and it probably wouldn't of mattered.
Chuck S. More than 1 year ago
On the subject of other stuff - I have to shake my head in dismay when the terms "stud values" and "serious money at stake" are used while addressing the merits of the current 3-year-olds. Doesn't anyone realize that soon it will no longer matter? When is somebody going to start caring about the steady decline in the nationwide handle figures? Is the industry just hoping that one day the decline will end, because that's the impression it's giving. It's only a matter of time before the extended dramatic downtrends will give state leaders with distressed budgets all the ammo they need to end the casino/slot machine subsidies currently flowing into horse racing. You'd have to be a fool not to see that one on the horizon. I can hear it now - "We see no need to continue to support an industry that's heading for extinction so we will redirect the funds towards...whatever". When that happens, it's over for everyone, breeders included. This sport is now a complete mess from a daily wagering aspect because the inmates are running the asylum. As longtime horseplayers continue to walk away in droves, is anybody ever going to address the situation? Apparently not yet. Someone needs to realize that it's probably now more logical to try and recover lost fans as opposed to trying to cultivate new ones. Think how many (myself included) have left the game over the past 5 years to create the current handle situation/trends. Or you can look at it this way - as the current pace of interest continues to wane, by 2030 you'll be able to purchase the offspring of a derby winner at your local petshop. And the purchase price will not be "serious money".
Llenny More than 1 year ago
Trainer needs to train him, was quite an effort winning the Californian, Needs his mentality straightened out then, How good he really is will show up, He can already run 1:19 and change, thats about as fast as they go....?? As for the Preakness,............ Can't see Shackleford better than 3rd, ( and thats only because of a class factor).......... And with German Dam on the bottom Animal Kingdom can run the course twice,...I hope his trainer has trained him correctly for the start this time....
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Hi Mike, I knew he had won on all three surfaces, but was looking to the future. Thanks for the correction as I really didn't spell out that thought properly. I don't think they are pointing to the turf any longer and... Smiling Tiger has flattened out a bit so... I remain a skeptic. Maybe I'm just ticked that he broke a Spectacular Bid record. Would probably place him at the top of any sort of list for Older Horses, tho. Thanks.
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Hi Mike, I suppose it's a good sign that Twirling Candy won with a new set of equipment and a change of style. But at 2-5 he basically did what he was supposed to do. And he probably will be a big FAV in the Hol Gold Cup, for what that is worth. Is there any interest by the public at large for racing on synthetics anymore? (as if there ever was) I'll quote another old one, "It's not how fast you run, it's how you run fast." The point of which was - who did you beat? The future is dirt or turf and until TC can win on either of those, and against a field perceived to have a bit of quality, I suspect he will hear the sound of one hand clapping. Come east of the Mississippi and give it a twirl. Til then, color me skeptical. The other TC - Triple Crown - at least gets a set of rivals for a "rubber match", but, while a public interest story, history may point to the "fresh" horse. We'll see. As for Tizway and the Met Mile - I thought it was the most impressive race of the year. The track was baked and speed favoring, but they went 1:08 and change and Tizway was right there and then closed like he figured to. Not enough O's in smooth. Let's see if he is back, as he did run fast in his 3yo summer. Thanks! (MW - Regarding Twirling Candy winning on dirt or turf, I should point out that on dirt he beat a high class field, albeit sprinting, in the Grade 1 Malibu, and he romped in the Strub. And on turf, he is 2 for 2, both in stakes, so ...)
Jim C. More than 1 year ago
TWIRLING CANDY, by far, is the the most versatile horse in North America (and no. 2 is his sibling, SIDNEY'S CANDY). TWIRLING CANDY has won stakes races on turf, dirt, and synthetics. He has won stakes routes and stakes sprints. He has won gate-to-wire, and closing well off the pace. His win in the Malibu was a Grade 1 at 7 furlongs over dirt against one of the (then) top 3 year old sprinters in the country, SMILING TIGER. That day, TWIRLING CANDY finished more than 4 lengths in front of NOBLE'S PROMISE. Second, as for all the blather about the need to "go East," is no horse on the East Coast this year that is in the same zip code talent-wise as TWIRLING CANDY, particularly 4 year old and up. I do admit, it would have been nice to seen him annihilate the field in the Met Mile. The final time in the Californian, was nothing special, but the pace was absurdly slow (:49 and 2/5). I have never seen a horse in the backstretch drop out of the first flight, take to the back, and then circle around the field coming out of the final stretch before winning so easily. And the fact that he was able to close into such slow fractions, and blow away the field, is indicate of how formidable a colt he is. I have to admit: when we were watching the race, and TWIRLING CANDY dropped to the back along the backstretch, I was muttering out loud that Sadler has ruined the horse. (Maybe it was Stauffer's call that got me so worked up). I thought Rosario was going to pull him up. Re: the Santa Anita Handicap and that TWIRLING CANDY was "out of gas" before the pinball action occurred in the final stretch. That is pure speculation, and not an all borne out by the video. He was the object of nasty bumping from both sides on account of Sutherland's infamous left-hand whipping, and had the wind taken out of his sales. He is a far better horse than GAME ON DUDE , or SETSUKO. And there was absolutely no way to definitively infer how he would have finished absent the bumping. This colt is probably unbeatable on dirt at a mile and under. Wouldn't we love to see him take on The Factor in a sprint? (MW - Sidney's Candy is not Twirling Candy's sibling. Sibling means brother or sister. Twirling Candy and Sidney's Candy are from different dams, and thus are not related.)
inno2 More than 1 year ago
Jim...I think you should take a look at the Beyer Tizway ran in the Met, I believe it was 113......I dont think anyone was going to beat him that day. PS....Which fox news anchor is your favorite?
Jim C. More than 1 year ago
inno2: Tizway is a nice horse, but if they were entered in a race on dirt at a mile and under, Twirling Candy will be the one with lower odds. If both get clean trips, and Twirling Candy doesn't act like a delinquent, he's the more likely winner, and is the more talented, and the more versatile horse. Twirling Candy's worst enemy is himself.
inno2 More than 1 year ago
Jim, just watched twirling in the replay....that was super impressive.
GunBow More than 1 year ago
I was at Hollywood Park on Saturday, and about halfway during the running of the Californian I thought I was watching Twirling Candy's head take him not only out of the race but maybe out of major stakes racing(at least successful major stakes racing). After threatening to come unglued in a number of races, I thought we were seeing Twirling Candy hit rock bottom from a mental and emotional standpoint. He was rank and uncomfortable between horses, and evidently Rosario believed the only solution was to put him in neutral and drop out to the back of the pack and let him regroup. For a horse that had lost ground in the stretch of the Big Cap and Goodwood, the prospects of a last-to-first closing move against a glacial pace did not appear attractive. So imagine my surprise when in stretch I spot Twirling Candy moving effortlessly, breezing by solid closers like Setsuko and Spurrier with insulting ease. Somehow, Twirling Candy's immense physical talents were able overcome all the negatives that had been stacked against him by mid-race. I certainly take it as a positive that Twirling Candy was able to win despite being less than perfect mentally and emotionally. If Twirling Candy is not the most physically talented horse in the country, he's way up on the leaderboard. But, as we almost saw in the Californian, physical talent doesn't always translate into success on the racetrack. The negative to take away from the race is that Twirling Candy's mind and emotions are still a good ways behind his body in terms of development. Against gr.1 competition and running 10 furlongs, Twirling Candy is unlikely to get away with the hijinx from this race. He can ill-afford to lose the ground and energy from being rank, and is going to have to learn to be more comfortable between horses and maybe deal with some bumping; Rosario's cautious approach was fine in the Californian, but giving away lengths as well as tactical position will likely bite him in the big races. Winning the Californian was nice, but it will be quickly forgotten if he losses the Hollywood Gold Cup, and losing is a real possibility, despite his physical talent, if he has even a mini-meltdown.