12/05/2003 12:00AM

The Candi Queen to stay on dirt, point for Millions

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Jim Equils was not sure what to think last April at Santa Anita when he and his wife, Marcia, claimed The Candi Queen for $20,000 and watched her finish last of six.

"I said, 'What have we done?' " he said.

This week, Jim Equils was able to look back on that moment and laugh. Thursday at Hollywood Park, The Candi Queen scored the most important win of her career, drawing off to a 17-length win in an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles for California-bred fillies and mares.

The win has given the Equils, of Laguna Hills, and trainer Steve Knapp a reason to consider the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff for California-breds and Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 24.

"That was the first time we've had a horse win that far," said Jim Equils.

After The Candi Queen was claimed in April, Knapp chose turf and dirt races for her. In her first start following the claim, The Candi Queen eased everyone's fears by winning a $25,000 claimer at Hollywood Park by eight lengths.

She lost eight consecutive starts before Thursday's race, but was second or third six times. Five of those races were on the turf, including two placings at Santa Anita at the recent Oak Tree meeting.

"We took her off the turf and I think we'll leave her on the dirt," Equils said.

Knapp is convinced that The Candi Queen's front-running style is best served on the main track. She has led in almost all of her races this year, sometimes by several lengths in the early stages.

"I think it's tougher to go wire-to-wire on the turf than dirt," Knapp said.

By Candi's Gold, The Candi Queen was bred by Junior Nicholson. She is out of Shanes Queen, by Shanekite, who has produced three other winners of $100,000 or more - Call Me a Prince ($197,789), Candi's Princess ($143,393), and Sweet Dish ($161,670). None are stakes winners.

The Candi Queen has won 5 of 24 starts and $149,040. Since she was claimed, she has earned $96,020, including $24,000 on Thursday.

In Thursday's race, The Candi Queen led by eight lengths after a half-mile, and 10 lengths after six furlongs. After the finish, jockey Tyler Baze glanced over his right shoulder to see how far he was in front. Surprised, Baze quickly looked back again, as if he couldn't believe how clear he was. The final time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:43.53.

The field behind The Candi Queen included Buttertart, the runner-up in the 2002 California Cup Juvenile Fillies, who finished second.

The Candi Queen may need luck to draw into the Sunshine Millions Distaff. The race is limited to 12 starters, of which six can be California-breds. If the race oversubscribes, preference is based on wins or placings in graded stakes, wins in non-graded stakes, or the number of wins in non-claiming races.

To increase The Candi Queen's chances for a berth, Knapp is planning to give her one more start in an open allowance race. California-breds that win first condition allowance races against statebreds are eligible to return in open allowance races.

In September, The Candi Queen finished last of five in the E.B. Johnston Stakes at Fairplex Park, leading up to the final quarter-mile before fading.

"When we ran her at Pomona, she didn't care for that track," Knapp said. "They pushed her early and she couldn't get away."

Thursday's race was The Candi Queen's 15th start of the year. Knapp said he doesn't ask much of The Candi Queen between starts.

"I don't train her very hard. I work her sparingly as possible," he said. "I gallop her lightly and work seldom. If she takes a few steps forward, she might be a stakes horse."