09/02/2004 11:00PM

Candy Ride was something special

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PHOENIX - The "Ride" came to a quiet end this week, and considering the raw ability shown by Candy Ride it was sad that it ended with a whimper and not with a bang.

A year after his signature performance, a track record-setting win in Del Mar's Grade 1 Pacific Classic, another comeback attempt was launched and failed. Enough was enough, according to trainer Ron McAnally, and now Candy Ride goes off to a life at stud.

Strangely, Candy Ride has been something of a lightning rod. There are those who think him a supreme performer; others have considered him overhyped, even disappointing.

I'm not willing to put him in the category of Spectacular Bid, but he certainly is closer to that end of the spectrum than the other. Maybe it's the fact he teased us so, that we kept hearing about a comeback and then about another problem. Maybe it's because he wowed us so much in the Pacific Classic that many felt cheated he didn't race afterward. Maybe it would have been better for his reputation had the retirement story come just days or weeks after that Del Mar tour de force, instead of stringing us along for a year with the promise that maybe, just maybe . . .

But it didn't happen, and now it seems to be held against him. But get past the disappointment and look at the achievements in this brief career.

He never lost. How can a horse be considered disappointing when he's unbeaten? He was top class on both surfaces - he was 3 for 3 on turf, 3 for 3 on dirt. Want to talk about versatility? He not only won graded stakes on both surfaces but won at various distances. That puts him in the same rarefied air as the likes of Secretariat, Dr. Fager, John Henry, and Gentlemen. He won from six furlongs to 10 furlongs, on two continents, at the highest level.

When he won the Pacific Classic, he didn't just beat Medaglia d'Oro, he whipped him. Medaglia d'Oro had never been so abused in a race that he fired in. That loss and a second in the Breeders' Cup Classic were blemishes on an otherwise dazzling 2003 for Medaglia d'Oro, who ended up 3 for 5 on the year.

Then there's the Beyer - 123. People are abuzz about Ghost-zapper's 128 earned in the recent Iselin at Monmouth, but that figure comes with a caveat - it was earned in the slop. So, too, were Bertrando's 125 in the Woodward back in 1993 and Midway Road's 123 earlier this year at Keeneland. In terms of the best fast-track Beyers earned since DRF started publishing the figs in 1992, only Will's Way, Formal Gold, Gentlemen, Skip Away, and Artax can boast better numbers.

When Candy Ride won the Grade 2 American Handicap on the turf at Hollywood Park, all he did was whip a pretty nice horse in Special Ring, who next out won the Grade 1 Eddie Read at Del Mar, and won that race again this year.

I realize there's disappointment in Candy Ride's retirement. Neither ill fortune nor other perceived human reasons, however, should denigrate what was accomplished on the track. Six races isn't enough to for him to be considered one of the ones, but considering Candy Ride's perfection, ability to handle any distance, any kind of surface, and to do so in both hemispheres at the highest level, well, if that's not greatness than I don't know what is.

During, before and after

It has always been my belief that During's best trip is a mile.

Well, now he gets it in Sunday's Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap. After a trip to Dubai that led to little, he was given time off by trainer Bob Baffert, then returned with a third to Choctaw Nation and Pleasantly Perfect in the 1 1/16-mile San Diego. He dueled for the lead in that race and paid the price. He then gave the 10-furlong Pacific Classic a try, but the distance and company were too much.

During doesn't face that kind of power here, and doesn't face that kind of distance. At this trip he can use his speed to get position stalking the pace, kick on for home, and then hold on for dear life. At a mile he can hold on all the way to the winner's circle.

Another horse of interest is Rushin' to Altar. He looked like a comer here in 2002, then even more so last year. After a third in the Pirate's Bounty last September, however, he didn't race again for nearly 11 months. Rushin' to Altar returned July 30 with an even try in a sprint. That race should do him a world of good.

On Sunday, he moves to what may be a better distance, and has been working in sensational style since the sprint return. With Domestic Dispute likely to go favored, the combination of During at 3-1 or so and Rushin' to Altar at 10-1 or so may be the ticket.