02/15/2009 12:00AM

Chocolate Candy holds on in El Camino Real

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ALBANY, Calif. - Chocolate Candy, asked to move earlier than normal, dug in when challenged late to capture the Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby on Saturday at Golden Gate Fields.

Aquicksting took command of the 1 1/8-mile race early, opening a four-length lead after the opening quarter. He maintained his advantage to the half-mile pole, but Chocolate Candy, the 1-2 favorite, and second-choice Axel Foley put him away approaching the quarter pole.

Chocolate Candy was the widest of the three and also going the easiest, taking control of the race into the stretch. His stablemate Rendezvous, who finished third, was the first to offer a minor challenge before Massone closed strongly along the rail.

Massone seemed to have plenty of momentum, but Chocolate Candy ($3) dug in, holding on to win by one-half length in 1:50.54. Rendezvous was another 4 1/2 lengths back with California Derby runner-up Axel Foley, the 5-2 second choice, fading badly to finish fourth, beaten 11 lengths.

Axel Foley's rider, Michael Baze, said his mount "was just empty."

Russell Baze, who rode Chocolate Candy, was worried that he had taken the lead too early.

"When he took the lead, I was a little concerned if I had enough horse left," Baze said. "When I asked him he responded and that was good enough for me. He would have held off the horse inside of me even if we went around again."

Baze did not get the trip he expected.

"He was a little too fresh today. I wanted to tuck in behind the three [Axel Foley] and save a little ground but he was too fresh and wouldn't let me do it," Baze said.

Winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said Chocolate Candy would be pointed to the April 4 Santa Anita Derby, but that he would also look at the March 14 San Felipe at Santa Anita.

"I'll probably keep him here for at least a week and then send him to Santa Anita," Hollendorfer said. "He likes this track, but he also likes that one."

Chocolate Candy, owned and bred by the Sid and Jenny Craig Trust, registered the third stakes win of his career as he improved his record to four wins in eight starts. The son of Candy Ride out of the Seattle Slew mare Crownette earned $120,000 to lift his career earnings to $382,500. He now has $220,000 in graded stakes earnings, the determining factor if the Kentucky Derby overfills.