08/15/2013 11:18AM

For Jenny Craig, memories atop racing world still shine bright

Benoit & Associates
Jenny Craig, at Del Mar last week with Mike Smith, is still involved in racing and has a controlling interest in the stallions Candy Ride and Twirling Candy.

Sidney Craig was still glowing from the victory of his colt Dr Devious in the 213th running of England’s cherished Epsom Derby in 1992 when he was presented, with great ceremony, to Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II. Such a moment, fraught with pomp and circumstance, carried with it an unusual custom that called for the owner of the winning colt to promise the Queen a share in the Derby winner’s future as a stallion, Her Majesty being England’s most famous patron of the Thoroughbred breed.

“I’m extremely competitive, Your Majesty,” Craig said, accepting royal congratulations. “Instead of one share in Dr Devious, I would like to give you two.”

No one who knew Craig ever would be surprised by the story. But it is a tale that Jenny Craig loves to tell, if only to offer a peek into the glamorous racing life she lived with her late husband, who died in 2008 at the age of 76, after 29 years of marriage. Dr Devious, who cost a cool $2.5 million, was Jenny’s gift to Sid on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“The Queen was very gracious,” Craig said this week at her Rancho Santa Fe home near Del Mar. “She told us that we’d done something she had tried to do but never accomplished. It doesn’t get much better than that. The funny thing is, Sid wanted to bet a million dollars on Dr Devious with the bookies. I told him if he did that he’d be nothing but a target, win or lose. So he cut back quite a bit, and he still won a very good bet. He really put his money where his heart was.”

Known to the broader public by the weight loss company that bears her name, Jenny Craig and her husband had a dizzying dozen or so years at the absolute top of the Thoroughbred racing world that stretched from the reign of their two-time champion mare Paseana in the early 1990’s to the summer of 2003, when their Argentinian horse Candy Ride raced to victory in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

During that period, the Craigs also won Grade 1 events with the mares Alpride, Different, and Exchange, as well as major stakes with Brave Act, Bienvenido, and Victory Stripes. Their racing silks – white trimmed in blue, with stylized his-and-hers horses on the back – became associated not only with runnings of the Epsom Derby and Pacific Classic, but also with victories in such events as the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, the Yellow Ribbon Invitational, the Matriarch, the Spinster, the Apple Blossom, the Ashland, the Beverly Hills, the Vanity, and the Santa Margarita Invitational.

PHOTO: Dr Devious, whom Craig purchased for $2.5 million as a birthday gift for husband Sid, wins the 1992 Epsom Derby. (Racing Post)

These things were accomplished from a relatively small racing stable. Jenny Craig likes to recall the encounter with the British racing personality John McCririck, described by Jenny as “the one with the sideburns,” after the Craigs had  won the Epsom classic, while back home they were in the midst of Paseana’s first championship season.

“We had only four horses in the stable at the time, and we were winning all those Grade 1 races,” Craig recalled. “He shook his finger at Sid and said, ‘You will never have another year like this again.’

“Sid turned to me and said, ‘That guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about,’ ” Craig went on. “But he was absolutely right. We never did have another year like that. But we still had some extreme highs, and certainly winning the Pacific Classic was among the tops.”

It’s hard for Craig not to celebrate the anniversary of Candy Ride’s 2003 Pacific Classic victory over Medaglia d’Oro, accomplished in a Del Mar dirt-track record time of 1:59.11 for 1 1/4 miles. Candy Ride came to California with a public record of 3 for 3 in his native Argentina and whispered stories of unofficial races in the hinterlands that were the stuff of local legend. Trainer Ron McAnally, who journeyed to Argentina to inspect the horse, came back with one of those promises made only by the very brave or the very foolish. Or both.

“I told Sid that this was the horse he could win the Pacific Classic with,” McAnally said. “That was in January of 2003.”

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Jenny Craig is reminded of Candy Ride practically every day as his career as a Kentucky stallion continues its steady success. There is even a chance that Kettle Corn, 6-year-old son of Candy Ride owned by Lee and Susan Searing, could emulate his sire by winning this year’s running of the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 25.

“Even though the Epsom Derby was a great trophy in terms of racing, the thing that gave Sid the biggest thrill was winning the Pacific Classic,” Craig said. “I think the only thing that could have outshone that would have been winning the Kentucky Derby. He was walking on air that day.”

(Full disclosure: It was also a pretty good day in this reporter’s household, since Candy Ride was ridden by Mrs. Reporter, aka Julie Krone.)

By 2003 the Craigs were a well-established San Diego County fixture. The racetrack at Del Mar was practically in their backyard, and the corporate headquarters of Jenny Craig Inc. was just up the road. They’d been together since 1979 when Sid Craig, a native of Vancouver who was raised in Los Angeles, married Genevieve “Jenny” Bourcq of New Orleans. As business partners, they already had made a name for themselves in the women’s health and fitness world with a company called Body Contour. When Body Contour was sold in 1982, the Craigs moved to Australia to launch the Jenny Craig brand of weight control and fitness centers. In 2006, the worldwide company and its more than 600 Jenny Craig Centers was sold to the Swiss firm Nestle (yes, the chocolate guys) for $600 million. That same year, the sons and daughters of Candy Ride started hitting the ground.

Candy Ride raced just three times in the United States before chronic ankle trouble sent him to stud. By contrast, the Craigs were able to plan their yearly calendar around Paseana, who won 5 of 8 starts in Argentina before making 28 starts in the United States after joining McAnally’s stable in the spring of 1991. She won 14 of those 28 starts and was second 10 times before the end of the line came in July 1995.

“She never left the track, never out because of an injury, never unable to run,” Craig said. “And she was like a little puppy dog. You’d go up to her stall, and she was so kind and sweet. I loved watching her work out, because she’d come to the track and survey the scene, and no amount of urging would make her go until she was ready. The sad thing is that she was never able to have more than one foal.”

The Craigs saw to it that Paseana’s name would live on in other ways. In 1995 they bought the 227-acre property to the east of Del Mar racetrack that had been home to the training center built by San Diego Chargers owner Eugene Klein under the direction of his trainer and racing adviser, D. Wayne Lukas.

The story took a strange twist after Klein’s death in March 1990. Three months later the training center was bought for $27 million by Jean-Laurent Andreani, a Frenchman who was rapidly lashing together a Thoroughbred enterprise by throwing money in a number of directions. Barely two years later Andreani defaulted and was selling off his racing stock. By the time Dr Devious walked into the winner’s circle at Epsom Downs, the bank owned the training center.

With its deserted 140 stalls, abandoned pastures, and overgrown six-furlong training track, the property became an eyesore. In 1995 the Craigs met the bank’s price of $6 million and spent the money required for a complete makeover. Fortunately, the barns were built to last and the training track was not beyond renovation. When it was ready to welcome Thoroughbreds once again, the new owners christened it Rancho Paseana.

The Craigs kept their mares and foals there, gave their racehorses a place to rest or rehab, and eventually opened Rancho Paseana to friends and outside clients. Now, though, Rancho Paseana is deserted once again. Craig put the property up for sale last year, while it was still a full-service training center used by such owners and trainers as John Sadler, Bob Baffert, and Martin Wygod, but in May of this year it was closed. Clifford Sise, who ran Rancho Paseana as a training center since 2011, has stayed on as caretaker while the property is on the market.

“It would have been wonderful to have passed it down to my children and grandchildren,” Jenny said. “Sadly, my children are not even vaguely interested in racehorses. That’s really the main reason I want to sell Rancho Paseana.”

Craig said she has heard from numerous people in the industry expressing the hope that Rancho Paseana remains a training center, especially now that Hollywood Park is going out of business at the end of the year and California’s owners and trainers are scrambling for decent stabling facilities.

“I have total control over who I sell it to, but of course no control at all once it’s sold,” Craig said. “If there was a way to make sure it continues as a resource for the racing community I’d certainly do my best to make it happen, although I don’t think anybody would buy a piece of property with someone giving them stipulations about what they could do with it.”

As far as her racing interests go, since her husband’s death Jenny has had a pretty good run with stakes winners Chocolate Candy, Sidney’s Candy, and Twirling Candy, all sons of Candy Ride. She has dispersed her broodmare band, but has retained controlling interest in Candy Ride and Twirling Candy, both stallions standing at Lane’s End in Kentucky.

“I had to take my age into consideration,” Craig said. “I’m 81 now, and I feel like I could live forever, but I have to be realistic, and waiting from the time the mare is bred for a foal to end up in a significant race is not realistic. I like to say at my age you don’t even buy green bananas.

“Without Sid it really has been hard,” she added. “Wins are only exciting when you have someone to share them with. And when you’ve had a level of success we enjoyed together, anything less is hard to keep you excited.”

If that sounded like some kind of farewell, it’s not what she intended.

“I still love the game and the people who share that love,” she said. “But what I’d really love is to have a couple of really good 2-year-olds that I can have fun with. Something that I can enjoy right now, not five years from now.”