02/14/2009 1:00AM

Chocolate Candy, Axel Foley meet again


ALBANY, Calif. - They are not Affirmed and Alydar, but Chocolate Candy and Axel Foley resume what is becoming an interesting rivalry in Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at 1 1/8 miles at Golden Gate Fields.

The pair have met twice, in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Dec. 20 and again in the California Derby here Jan. 17.

Chocolate Candy holds the upper hand. He ran third in the CashCall and won the California Derby. Axel Foley was sixth in the CashCall in his U.S. debut and second in the California Derby. He was 3 1/2 lengths behind Chocolate Candy in the first meeting, and 1 3/4 lengths back last time.

Both colts are nominated to the Triple Crown, as is Rendezvous, a stablemate of Chocolate Candy who is making his stakes debut. Aquicksting, second as a 2-year-old in the Gateway to Glory, and claimer Raising Memo round out the field.

Merus Miami, third in the California Derby and another Crown nominee, was entered in the El Camino, but trainer O.J. Jauregui said he would be scratched because of a small abscess in his left front foot. He said that he would likely point the colt to the Grade 3, $200,000 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 28.

Axel Foley's trainer, Doug O'Neill, and Chocolate Candy's trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, both say their colts are coming into the race well.

Axel Foley is O'Neill's best Kentucky Derby hope, with Square Eddie suffering from a shin problem.

"Square Eddie's the real deal," O'Neill said. "We're hoping Axel Foley can step up to that level."

O'Neill is adding blinkers for Axel Foley.

"He kinda loomed up last time, and I thought maybe he got the lead before Chocolate Candy took over," O'Neill said.

The blinkers, which have not made Axel Foley speed crazy in the morning, could keep him better focused to continue on in the lane. "He worked unbelievable in them," O'Neill said. "He isn't bothered by horses behind him or beside him."

O'Neill said the colt continues to fill out and grow.

"He's strong, and he's handled everything we've asked of him," he said. "Also, mentally, he's good. Here's a horse that's only run four times, but he's been absolutely confident in the paddock at Hollywood Park and at Golden Gate. He's a confident, smart, conserving-your-energy kind of colt."

Hollendorfer is equally pleased with Chocolate Candy, who has worked four times since his California Derby victory.

"His maturity has been gradual," Hollendorfer said. "What I like is he's doing everything easy. He's ready to go."