08/19/2004 12:00AM

Candy Ride remains stuck in limbo

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The unbeaten but fragile Candy Ride (3), plagued by minor injuries, has not raced since winning last year's Pacific Classic, and though he is training, he is at least two months away from a start.

DEL MAR, Calif. - It was perhaps the greatest performance in the history of Del Mar, certainly the best performance in California since Spectacular Bid's West Coast tour-de-force in 1980.

When Candy Ride won last year's Pacific Classic, he set a track record of 1:59.11 for 1 1/4 miles, earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 123 - the biggest number of the year, for any division - and ran his record to 6 for 6. There was little doubt he was the best horse in training in the country.

He has not raced since.

Twelve months later, Candy Ride has been the biggest enigma of 2004. He was taken out of training last fall, was put back in training earlier this year at Santa Anita, but has had several setbacks. He has not had a published workout in months. He is training at Del Mar, where he is expected to have a workout soon, but he is still at least two months away from a possible race, according to his trainer, Ron McAnally.

"He's getting close to a breeze," McAnally said. "He's had a little bit of a soft-tissue problem on the outside of his left front ankle. He's far too good to keep going with when something little happens. We work on it, work on it, and work on it, but it keeps coming back. Hopefully this time it won't."

Asked if the past 12 months with Candy Ride had been frustrating, McAnally immediately replied, "Very."

"It's frustrating knowing you have the best horse in the world, a horse who could beat any horse in the world, and you can't do anything," McAnally said.

"Except for John Henry, I've never had total confidence like I do with him. Even this year's race, I would have total confidence, and Dick has a good horse," McAnally said, referring to the Richard Mandella-trained Pleasantly Perfect.

Candy Ride is owned by Sid and Jenny Craig. This year, the Craigs and McAnally will be represented in the Pacific Classic by El Elogiado, another South American import. But unlike last year, when McAnally predicted months before the Pacific Classic that Candy Ride would win the race, he is making no such predictions this year.

"I was so happy for the Craigs as much as us," McAnally said. "I'd have hated to make a prediction like that and not have it work out."

Mullins switching methods

Sweet Win, the winner of the San Clemente Handicap on July 31 and a leading candidate in Saturday's $300,000 Del Mar Oaks, arrived at trainer Jeff Mullins's stable in July as part of a four-horse private transaction from south Florida. It could be the start of a shift in the way Mullins acquires horses.

Frustrated by the unknown elements of claiming horses, Mullins said he would like to begin purchasing more horses privately, and is considering making his first trip to England later this year to attend a horses in training sale.

He said the opportunity for a pre-purchase inspection of a private sale outweighs the convenience of a claim.

"I'd rather buy horses privately," he said. "I don't want to get out of the claiming game. If you claim a horse, you're stuck with them. I get more nervous dropping a claim than running in a Grade 1."

Mullins's top claim this year has been Choctaw Nation, who starts in Sunday's Pacific Classic. Owned by Robert Bone, Choctaw Nation was claimed for $40,000 out of a maiden race for sprinters last February at Santa Anita, a race he won. Choctaw Nation is unbeaten in five starts, including the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap on Aug. 1.

Choctaw Nation's previous trainer, Bruce Headley, has made it no secret that he was irked that Mullins claimed the first-time starter. Mullins acknowledged that claiming horses could sometimes anger people.

"When you claim a horse and it does well, people get mad," he said. "I don't get mad when people claim off of me because I put the horse in where I can lose them.

"I've been buying a lot more horses than claiming," he said. "You know what you get."

The package that included Sweet Win includes Verkade, who was second in his first California start on Aug. 1. A 4-year-old colt, Verkade is a candidate for Sunday's Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs.

"I like buying race-ready horses," Mullins said. "I don't like developing them. It gives you gray hair."

Miss Vegas injures ankle

Miss Vegas, a five-time stakes winner in California and Italy, has been taken out of training following her second-place finish in the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap on July 31. Trained by Bobby Frankel for Edmund Gann, Miss Vegas will miss approximately two months because of an ankle injury, according to Humberto Ascanio, Frankel's assistant.

Miss Vegas would have been a contender for Saturday's $300,000 Del Mar Oaks.

Since arriving in this country last winter, Miss Vegas has won two stakes at Hollywood Park - the Grade 3 Senorita Stakes and the Flawlessly Stakes, both over a mile on turf.

Dimitrova to face males in Del Mar 'Cap

Dimitrova, the winner of two major stakes last year and the fourth-place finisher in the Grade 1 John Mabee Handicap last month, will make her next start against males in the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf on Aug. 29.

Trained by Neil Drysdale for Joseph Higgins, Dimitrova is winless in three starts this year. Last year, while trained by Dermot Weld, she won three stakes, including the American Oaks at Hollywood Park and Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park.

Both of those races were at 1 1/4 miles. Drysdale has insisted that Dimitrova needs longer races than the one-mile and 1 1/8-mile distances that she has contested in recent starts.

* Chandtrue, the winner of the Hollywood Juvenile Championship, worked five furlongs in 1:03.60 on Thursday morning for trainer Bob Hess Jr. in preparation for the Sept. 8 Del Mar Futurity.

* Terroplane, preparing for the Sept. 6 Del Mar Derby, worked seven furlongs in 1:29.60 on the turf for trainer Neil Drysdale. Terroplane did not run in last Saturday's La Jolla Handicap "because he had some mucus," Drysdale said.

* The sprinter Our New Recruit, preparing for his first start since capturing the Golden Shaheen in Dubai in March, zipped five furlongs in 59.20 seconds, equaling the best time of 46 at the distance. He is trained by John Sadler.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen