03/12/2016 8:26PM

Danzing Candy breaks more alertly in San Felipe

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Benoit & Associates
Danzing Candy wins his stakes debut under Mike Smith in the San Felipe.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Every journey begins with a first step, and for Danzing Candy, that first step in his first three starts was not as sharp as it would need to be the closer he got to the Kentucky Derby. But in his stakes debut on Saturday at Santa Anita in the Grade 2, $400,000 San Felipe Stakes, Danzing Candy put his prior gate troubles in the rear-view mirror, and his rivals in the race ended up there, too.

 Danzing Candy ($13) left the gate sharply under Mike Smith and never looked back. He ran his early rivals off their feet with a quick pace and then held off favored Mor Spirit in deep stretch to win by two lengths and earn 50 points toward a berth in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 7.

 “He left much better. He’s good now,” said his trainer, Cliff Sise Jr., who admitted he had done nothing special regarding gate work with Danzing Candy in recent weeks, believing the colt would figure it out.

 Danzing Candy rocketed through the opening half-mile in 46.11 seconds, with Uncle Lino and I Will Score his closest pursuers. Danzing Candy left those two heading around the far turn, but picked up a fresh challenge from Exaggerator, who saved ground on the far turn and loomed menacingly entering the lane.

 But Danzing Candy thwarted that bid, and kept motoring when Mor Spirit made his run to complete 1 1/16 miles on a track rated fast in 1:43.04.

 Mor Spirit, who ran into some trouble on the first turn, finished three-quarters of a length in front of Exaggerator, who was third. Uncle Lino was another 7 1/4 lengths back in fourth, then came Smokey Image – who suffered the first loss of his career – and I Will Score. Cupid was scratched on Friday, leaving a field of six.

 Danzing Candy, by Twirling Candy, has now won three straight since a trouble-filled debut at Del Mar in November. All his wins have been this meet at Santa Anita, and all in concert with jockey Mike Smith. They beat maidens sprinting on opening day Dec. 26, then won a first-level allowance going a mile on Feb. 4. This was their first try going 1 1/16 miles, and they will team again in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby on April 9, which is the final local prep for the Kentucky Derby.

 “He’s 3 for 3 at this track. Why change? He’ll stay here,” said Sise, who said he thinks Danzing Candy can continue to handle longer distances because “he’s got such fluid, beautiful action,” he said.

 Sise trains Danzing Candy for a partnership of Ted Aroney’s Halo Farms, and Jim and Diane Bashor. Aroney, who bred Danzing Candy, is a sharp handicapper who told Sise he wanted to be on the lead if Danzing Candy broke well.

 “He didn’t want to experiment,” Sise said.

 “This horse was doing so good going in,” Sise added.

 Mor Spirit was very keen the first part of the race and had to check twice behind horses in traffic on the first turn.

 “That took something out of him. He was a little fresh,” said his trainer, Bob Baffert. “He finished well.”

 Mor Spirit also will come back in the Santa Anita Derby. He has now won three times and finished second three times in six starts.

 “I like where we’re sitting for the Santa Anita Derby,” said Gary Stevens, who rode Mor Spirit. “I lost a battle today, but I like our position.”