04/02/2009 12:00AM

Chocolate Candy takes on derby heavyweights

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Once you get past the wry joke of a horse named Chocolate Candy owned by weight-loss entrepreneur Jenny Craig, the rest is easy.

"It is kind of tongue in cheek, when you think about it," Craig said this week. "Believe it or not, we do have chocolate cake on the menu, which isn't too far from chocolate candy."

With Jenny Craig pitchwoman Valerie Bertinelli on the cover of the current People magazine, flaunting her 48-year-old "bikini body," this might be the time to invest in chocolate candy. The horse, that is. On Saturday, Chocolate Candy will face Pioneerof the Nile and The Pamplemousse in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, with a trip to the Kentucky Derby on the line. Craig's colt faces the toughest test of his career, but he has the blood, the barn, and the style to get the job done. If he wins, no one paying attention will be surprised.

"Even at Hollywood last summer, he acted like a very professional horse," said assistant trainer Dan Ward, who runs the Jerry Hollendorfer barn at Santa Anita. Chocolate Candy was listening as Ward spoke.

"He was always very good in the gate, in the paddock," Ward went on. "When we saddled for the Real Quiet, the valet brought out a girth way too small. I told them I hated to do it, but they needed to go back and get a bigger girth, and while we waited, he just stood there. Then he went out and won."

Chocolate Candy followed that with a solid third - on a freshly patched quarter crack - to Pioneerof the Nile and I Want Revenge in the CashCall Futurity. This year Craig's colt has two stakes wins at Golden Gate, most recently in the El Camino Real Stakes on Feb. 14.

"We'll see how good he is this weekend, when he faces the big boys," Jenny Craig said. "And depending on that, we'll know if he should go to Kentucky."

Sidney Craig, who founded the weight-loss empire alongside his wife, died in July of 2008, at age 76, about two months after Chocolate Candy made his debut at Hollywood Park. He was a well-beaten sixth, but Sid, a passionate horseplayer, must have sent his money, since Chocolate Candy was favored that day at 2-1.

"As Sid got more and more sick, I don't think he was projecting things too far into the future," Jenny said. "So I don't think he looked at Chocolate Candy and thought about the Kentucky Derby. He just enjoyed it when any of his horses won a race."

Winning the Santa Anita Derby would be nice for Craig, but she and her husband already did better. In 1992, she bought an Irish colt named Dr Devious, tied him up in a big, metaphorical bow, and presented him to her husband for his 60th birthday. The intention was to win the Kentucky Derby, but that didn't work out (he was seventh to Lil E. Tee). As a consolation prize, Dr Devious returned to the British Isles and promptly won the 213th running of the Epsom Derby.

Being one among 213 under such circumstances is rare enough. The Craigs, Californians to the hilt, also joined a choice list of Americans who had the good fortune to own the winner of England's greatest race. Fellow members of the club included Paul Mellon, John Galbreath, Raymond Guest, Charles Englehard, and Nelson Bunker Hunt.

As colonials, the Craigs were clued into all the particulars of behavior in the presence of the royals. Their introduction to Queen Elizabeth after the race went well - the Craigs sympathized that she had so far failed to win a Derby for herself - and then it was time for commerce.

"We had been told that it was protocol to give the Queen a season to your Derby winner, for one of her mares," Craig said. "Sid said to her, 'Well, that's what people usually do. I'm going to give you two.' "

In addition to the Epsom Derby trophy, the Craig home in Rancho Santa Fe also displays a Hall of Fame plaque for their two-time champion mare Paseana, as well as the 2003 Pacific Classic trophy won by Candy Ride, the sire of Chocolate Candy and a stallion star on the rise.

Chocolate Candy, bred by the Craigs, is a long, elegant colt with his father's head and a glowing, deep brown coat that would sell well wrapped in foil and stuck in a Whitman's Sampler. The female side of the family leans more toward Godiva, though, led by his dam, Crownette, a daughter of Seattle Slew who won the 1992 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita.

Crownette's dam, In Memory, was a product of the awkward union between Alydar and Won't Tell You, who was the dam of Affirmed. Not surprisingly, In Memory was too conflicted to be any kind of a racehorse. She ended up in Japan.

Still, Chocolate Candy has pedigree to burn. Now it's time to find out how far the family, and a little bit of fate, can take him.

"I have a feeling Sid will be riding that horse on Saturday right along with the jockey," Craig said. "It was his dream to have a real contender in the Kentucky Derby.

"We have had four horses run in the Derby before," she added. "But I don't think Sid ever felt as strongly about any of them as he would have felt about Chocolate Candy."