08/31/2010 1:33PM

Few willing to challenge Twirling Candy in Del Mar Derby

Benoit & Associates
Twirling Candy is being pointed to the Feb. 5 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita.

DEL MAR, Calif. - John Sadler was the leading trainer at Del Mar the past two seasons, and though he is a longshot to catch Doug O’Neill before the meet ends next Wednesday, Sadler has a chance to go out on a very high note with big chances in important stakes this weekend, most notably the unbeaten Twirling Candy in the Grade 2, $300,000 Del Mar Derby on Sunday.

Twirling Candy has won all three of his starts, and successfully handled switching to turf and stretching out around two turns with a powerful victory in the Oceanside Stakes on opening day July 21. Since then, Twirling Candy has turned in a series of impressive workouts, and looms a short-priced favorite against only a handful of rivals in the 1 1/8-mile grass race.

“He’s doing really well,” Sadler said Tuesday morning, fresh from a weekend visit, the first of his life, to Saratoga. “When he worked the other day, he broke off for a seven-furlong work but there was a loose horse, so he pulled up after an eighth. Then they let the loose horse get off the track, and started again, so he worked six furlongs.”

Despite the interruption, Twirling Candy was timed in 1:11, the best time of the day by more than a second. Joel Rosario, who worked Twirling Candy, has the mount on Saturday.

In addition to Twirling Candy, the Del Mar Derby field is expected to include Alphie’s Bet (Mike Smith the rider), Fantastic Pick (Corey Nakatani), Kid Edward (David Flores), Royal F.J. (Rafael Bejarano), and Summer Movie (Victor Espinoza).

If Twirling Candy wins, he will give Sadler and owner Jenny Craig a sweep of the meet’s turf stakes races for 3-year-olds. Sidney’s Candy won the La Jolla Handicap on Aug. 14. Sidney’s Candy is awaiting the Oak Tree Mile or the Oak Tree Derby, Sadler said Tuesday.

Sadler on Saturday will saddle the impressive maiden winner Tell a Kelly in the Grade 1, $250,000 Darley Debutante, which is shaping up as an outstanding seven-furlong race for 2-year-old fillies. Alonzo Quinonez has the mount on Tell a Kelly, who closed powerfully to win her second start.

The unbeaten Wickedly Perfect, who won the Sorrento Stakes on Aug. 6, is the likely favorite, but she will be challenged by several sharp maiden winners from this meet, including Avid, Pedaltothemedal, Rigoletta, and Sugarinthemorning. A Z Warrior and Izshelegal, the second- and third-place finishers, respectively, in the Sorrento are also expected to run.

Sadler also will have the heavy favorite, Switch, in the $100,000 Torrey Pines Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going one mile on Sunday. Others expected for that race include Ellafitz, Fashion Trend, Hard Way Ten, La Nez, Softly Singing, and Washington Bridge.

Golfing great visits Sadler’s barn

Phil Mickelson, one of the top professional golfers in the world, was a visitor at Sadler’s barn on Tuesday morning, accompanying his brother, Tim, a local golf pro who claimed the 2-year-old colt Dancing At Dark for $40,000 out of Sunday’s first race.

Sadler said Dancing At Dark is the first horse he has trained for Tim Mickelson. He and Phil both live in the area.

“He came here to check out his new horse,” Sadler said.