07/01/2003 11:00PM

Candy Ride has $150,000 prep

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The $150,000 American Handicap on Friday at Hollywood Park is supposed to be a stepping-stone to bigger things for the undefeated Candy Ride.

Owners Sid and Jenny Craig and trainer Ron McAnally consider Candy Ride a candidate for the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar next month and are using the American Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf as a prep.

"The most important thing is to get a good mile-and-an-eighth race into him," McAnally said. "We've liked him right along since we first got him. The main thing is to get more distance."

While they eye the future, Candy Ride will be favored to win the Grade 2 American, which drew seven runners, six of whom are stakes winners.

The American Handicap is the feature on a 10-race program that begins at 1:20 p.m. Pacific. The undercard includes the $100,000 Landaluce Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.

Candy Ride, 4, won three races in Argentina last year, including two Group 1 races over a mile on turf. In his U.S. debut on June 7, he won a 1 1/16-mile allowance race by three lengths.

Candy Ride led or disputed the lead in that race through quick fractions. His opponents in the American include several stalkers and closers, and one front-runner, Special Ring, who is expected to play a major role.

Trained by Julio Canani for Prestonwood Farm, Special Ring finished second in his only start of the year, the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile on May 26. He led by three lengths on the backstretch but was caught in the final furlong by Redattore.

The distance of the American Handicap will be a test for Special Ring. Although he won the Wickerr Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on turf last summer at Del Mar, he has yet to win beyond that distance. Most of his races have been at a mile.

"The other day he galloped out pretty good," Canani said. "I hope that race didn't take too much out of him."

Those two lay over a field that includes Californian (a 3-year-old), Irish Warrior, Ninebanks, Sunday Break, and Tijiyr. Sunday Break is winless in five starts since the 2002 Peter Pan but was a game third in the Arcadia Handicap, his turf debut, at Santa Anita in April.

He will need to improve to beat Candy Ride and Special Ring, who will dominate the betting.

"Julio's horse ran big in the Shoemaker," McAnally said. "We're confident, but it's not an easy race."