03/03/2011 2:53PM

Jenny Craig operation remains on the go in racing

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Benoit & Associates
Owner-breeder Jenny Craig, with jockey Joel Rosario, does not have a Kentucky Derby candidate this year but has two top older horses in Twirling Candy and Sidney’s Candy.

ARCADIA, Calif. − They seem to arrive annually, these equine treats from Jenny Craig.

The lady whose name is synonymous with a chain of weight loss centers she founded in the 1980s with her late husband is today an active grandmother living near Del Mar with a small stable of top-class Thoroughbreds.

In recent years, the Craig breeding operation has been good enough to send horses to the Kentucky Derby, although Chocolate Candy finished fifth behind Mine that Bird in 2009 and Sidney’s Candy was 17th behind Super Saver last year.

There are no 3-year-olds in the stable mentioned as Kentucky Derby candidates this year. There are enough older horses on the team, though, to take on the world.

Saturday at Santa Anita, JennyCraig’s Twirling Candy will be an odds-on favorite to win the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap, the biggest race for older horses in the first half of the year in California. For Craig, who has continued her involvement in racing following the death of her husband, Sidney, in 2008, the Big Cap is one major trophy she has not claimed.

With Sid, as he was known to his friends, Jenny Craig won such races as the 1992 English Derby with Dr. Devious, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff the same year with Paseana, and the 2003 Pacific Classic with Candy Ride. Sidney’s Candy won the 2010 Santa Anita Derby for Jenny Craig, and she wants a Big Cap win this weekend, if for no other reason than to prove how good Twirling Candy is.

“It would be tremendous,” she said of the Big Cap. “It would mean a lot to me.”

Since Sid’s death, Jenny Craig’s involvement in racing has shifted. The size of the stable – racehorses and breeding stock − is down through a reduction at sales in recent years. This year, there will be 12 2-year-olds, and they must be brilliant to keep up with their 4-year-old stablemates.

Sidney’s Candy has won 6 of 11 starts and $893,560, most recently the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort at Santa Anita on Dec. 26. Minor injuries have kept him sidelined since, but there have been conversations of sending him to England for the Royal Ascot meeting in June.

Twirling Candy won his first Grade 1 in the Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26, running seven furlongs in 1:19.70 to break Spectacular Bid’s 1980 track record. On Feb. 5, Twirling Candy won the Grade 2 Strub Stakes by 4 1/4 lengths, confirming his status as the top horse in California, and perhaps the nation. He has won 6 of 7 starts and $579,900.

The success of Twirling Candy is not a complete surprise. In the fall of 2009, before his debut, Twirling Candy was the talk of the barns at Rancho Paseana, near Del Mar, the training center where Craig keeps her young horses.

“The guys at the farm said, ‘Wait until you see Twirling Candy if you think Sidney’s Candy is good,’ ” she said. “I couldn’t wait for him to start running. He really is exceptional.”

Sid Craig was often at the fore when the couple was at the races. Jenny Craig recalled he was proudest when Candy Ride, purchased in early 2003 after two Group 1 wins in Argentina, scored a comfortable win in that year’s Pacific Classic, not far from the Craigs’ home in Rancho Santa Fe.

“To him, it was one of the highlights of his racing career,” she said. “The whole family was there. Even though we’d won the Epsom Derby with Dr Devious, it wasn’t the same as winning in the back yard with a horse that would go on to become a super stud.”

Candy Ride is the sire of Sidney’s Candy, Twirling Candy, and Chocolate Candy, a 5-year-old who has won three stakes and is nearing a comeback after nine months on the sidelines. John Sadler trains Sidney’s Candy and Twirling Candy, and Jerry Hollendorfer trains Chocolate Candy.

“I am so excited about Chocolate Candy,” Craig said. “People have kind of forgotten about him. He was out for a while with a problem with his hoof. I think he’s going to turn out to be a good racehorse. I’m excited. I give Jerry Hollendorfer all the credit with that.”

All three were bred by the Craigs before Sid died of cancer in July 2008. Her thoughts on racing often include his memory.

“I guarantee he’s looking down, saying, ‘Where were these horses when I was there?’ ” Craig said. “He lived for that. He loved it so much.”

Since his death, Jenny Craig has visited three continents, kept up with her grandchildren, and spent countless hours on the golf course.

“For the last couple of years, I’ve been traveling a lot − Africa, Australia, the Caribbean − and I did it intentionally to help change my routine,” she said. “When you lose your partner in business, and a husband and you’re best friend, if you stay in the same routine void becomes so omnipresent. I felt I had to do other things. I’m done traveling now. I want to enjoy playing golf, watching the horses run, and spending time with my friends.”

Of course, her children and grandchildren root for grandma’s horses, but the link to the sport is not strong through the family, she said.

“Since Sid died, our children are not that excited about horse racing,” she said. “They’re raising small children and going to sports with the kids. They’re not anxious to travel up to LA.”

That was one of the reasons she sold shares of Twirling Candy to Marty Wygod and Lane’s End Farm last month.

“It’s good to have partners that really enjoy the show and appreciate a real talent,” she said. “It’s fun having people with you to share in the excitement.”

It’s already been an exciting winter for Jenny Craig. Twirling Candy and the other runners may keep it like that through all of 2011.