12/08/2010 4:20PM

Candies back in Champions Day action

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Trainer Chris Candies has not started a horse on the Louisiana Champions Day card at his home track of Fair Grounds in close to a decade, but he’ll be firing half of his stable at the rich program on Saturday.

Candies will send out four horses on the card of 11 stakes, with Twilight Ross set for the $150,000 Classic. High Toned goes in the $100,000 Turf, and Southern Invasion and Grand Minit are on deck for the $50,000 Starter.

“We’re running half the barn,” said Candies, who has eight horses in training at Fair Grounds.

Candies had operated one of the winningest stables in the Louisiana-Texas region between 1995 and 2003, among his biggest victories the Lone Star Derby in 1999. But he gave up his 30-horse racing stable about eight years ago because he said he found himself burned out. Candies decided to go the “9-to-5” route for a while, and took a job at a petroleum inspection company that his father co-owns in Houma, La. But this past summer, he claimed a horse at Louisiana Downs with the goal of returning to training at Fair Grounds.

“We had two months from Louisiana Downs into here, and it’s really given me a chance to settle down and get back into a routine,” said Candies, 40. “It’s been good. I definitely had some anxiety about coming back, and the two-month break has really given me a chance to relax and get back into the flow of things. Now the rust is coming off. I’m a lot more relaxed in the day to day issues you face training horses.”

Candies has been working on changing up High Toned’s running style for the Turf, a race the trainer won in 1996 with Hermanito. He believes the former front-runner, who is getting lessons in rating, is his best shot for a win Saturday.

“He’s coming into the race real nice,” Candies said. “The distance might be a little too far for him, the mile and a sixteenth, but we really went out and taught him how to rate. We really tried to work with him from several different angles to get this distance and he’s doing extremely well.

“He’s relaxed. On the track, we do a lot of standing with him now. It’s about taking a little extra time.”

High Toned races for Bobby Asaro, for whom Candies trained multiple stakes winner Caro’s Royalty. Asaro has been a big supporter of the trainer’s comeback, and either owns or co-owns all four horses that Candies will run on Saturday.

“He really works on finding horses that fit the mold for Champions Day, and here we are,” Candies said. “I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to run. I’m just coming back, and for Bobby to entrust me with these horses means a lot to me.”

Candies has not had Twilight Ross in his care as long as High Toned. The horse will have an equipment change of sorts for the Classic, as Candies said he will not be racing in a bar shoe that he had worn on his left front foot. Twilight Ross is 2 for 2 over the main track at Fair Grounds.

Pierce runners eye January stakes

Strike Again and Mullins Beach, who both won races over the Fair Grounds turf course last Saturday for trainer Malcolm Pierce, are candidates for a pair of local stakes on Jan. 22.

Pierce said Strike Again, who was up for a three-quarter-length win in the $60,000 Dilberto Memorial, will be considered for a start in the Grade 3, $100,000 Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap for 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles on turf. Pierce will also look at nominating him for the Grade 3, $200,000 Connally at 1 1/8 miles on turf at Sam Houston on Jan. 29.

Mullins Beach, meanwhile, won an $80,000 optional claiming allowance and is being pointed for the $60,000 Dr. A.B. Leggio Memorial for fillies and mares at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf.

“That’s the next one we’ll target with her,” said Pierce.