08/25/2003 12:00AM

With Candy Ride, it all fell into place

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Candy Ride soundly defeats the formidable Medaglia d'Oro in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. - This was Babe Ruth calling his shot, pointing to the outfield fence and then hitting a home run. This was Joe Namath predicting an upset victory for the Jets over the Colts in Super Bowl III.

It was back in January when Ron McAnally told Sid and Jenny Craig that he thought Candy Ride, whom they were negotiating to purchase in Argentina, could win the Pacific Classic. Seven months later, and one day after Candy Ride's dazzling, track-record victory in the Pacific Classic, McAnally took great satisfaction in seeing his grand plan come to fruition.

"It's unbelievable," McAnally said Monday morning. "Starting back in January, we had planned to run in this race. Since the day he arrived, he didn't miss one day of training. Everything went exactly the way it was planned. He ran at a mile and a sixteenth, then a mile and an eighth, to get ready for a mile and a quarter. Everything worked out perfect. I'm glad he did his thing yesterday and didn't make a liar out of me."

"Everything since we've had this horse has gone flawlessly," said McAnally's top assistant, Dan Landers. "That's more incredible than him winning the race. There's always something that goes wrong. A quarter crack, this and that."

The focus was so much on the Pacific Classic that McAnally had given little thought to what he would do after the race. But those questions are front and center now that Candy Ride has established himself as a leading contender for both Horse of the Year and the Eclipse Award as champion older horse. His Beyer Speed Figure of 123 is the biggest number recorded by any horse, in any division, at any distance this year. He has added great depth to an older-horse division that already included such top runners as Mineshaft, Congaree, and Medaglia d'Oro, who finished second in the Pacific Classic.

Candy Ride is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup and would have to be supplemented to the Classic by the Craigs for $800,000. They have put up supplementary fees before. They twice paid a huge fee to make Paseana eligible to the Breeders' Cup Distaff. The rules have changed in recent years, so that if Candy Ride is supplemented this year, he will not have to be supplemented in coming years. That could make the process a little more palatable.

"I didn't discuss it much last night with Sid and Jenny," McAnally said. "Knowing the Craigs, they're game. They're unbelievable people."

McAnally said Candy Ride could race next in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting on Oct. 4, but he emphasized that the 4-year-old colt's next start is "not conclusive" at this point.

Most of the other top horses in this division will have their final Breeders' Cup prep races on the East Coast. Mineshaft, who was freshened during Saratoga's meeting, is on target to race at Belmont Park in the Woodward Stakes on Sept. 6 and the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 27 before heading to Santa Anita for the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup Classic. Candy Ride's performance impressed Neil Howard, the trainer of Mineshaft.

"That was a hell of a race," he said. "That horse yesterday, you've certainly got to keep him in your thoughts."

The Jockey Club Gold Cup is also expected to include the 3-year-old Empire Maker, winner of the Belmont Stakes.

Medaglia d'Oro, who suffered his first defeat of the year Sunday, will remain in California and train up to the Breeders' Cup, his trainer, Bobby Frankel, said Monday at Saratoga.

Frankel theorized that Medaglia d'Oro might not have been at his absolute best for the Pacific Classic because he was coming back just three weeks after winning the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. "He ran good," Frankel said. "He might have come back a little soon."

Plans for Milwaukee Brew, who loomed as a threat with three furlongs to run before stopping badly, are uncertain. Humberto Ascanio, the Del Mar-based assistant to Frankel, said Milwaukee Brew "was coughing" after the race.

"He bled a little, a trace. Nothing that should have stopped a horse," Ascanio said. "Let's see how he looks in a couple of days."

Congaree is likely to have one prep before the Breeders' Cup Classic, in next month's Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park, trainer Bob Baffert said. Congaree worked six furlongs in 1:10.60 on Monday morning at Del Mar. The time was the best of 11 at the distance.

"I wish they'd send Candy Ride back to Argentina," Baffert joked Monday morning. "They've made their point."

Volponi, last year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner, is scheduled to have the same schedule as he did last year, when he raced on turf in the Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap, then on dirt in the Meadowlands Cup, before the Breeders' Cup.

- additional reporting by David Grening