12/09/2010 1:34PM

Mr. Candy Bar a horse on the rise

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If this is, as the song says, “the most wonderful time of the year,” then that sentiment is particularly true for trainers with improving 2-year-olds. Eight 2-year-olds will be trying to provide a wonderful time for their connections Saturday in the $75,000 Gold Rush at one mile at Golden Gate Fields.

The field ranges from Luckarack, who has won two stakes and picked up checks in two others, to King Cola, who has finished second or third in his three stakes attempts, to Eddie Coddana, who graduated for a $20,000 claiming price in his last start.

The race seems wide open and will likely go to the runner who shows the most improvement since his last start. Mr. Candy Bar might be that horse.

“If a horse moves up the ladder, he can win it,” said trainer O.J. Jauregui, who saddles Mr. Candy Bar for West Point Thoroughbreds and won the race for the same owners two years ago with Merus Miami.

Mr. Candy Bar has shown steady improvement in his three starts, winning his maiden in a one-mile turf test here on Nov. 18 in his last start.

“This is a very important step up the ladder for any colt,” Jauregui said. “Mine has the potential to be any kind of horse. I think he will be a decent 3-year-old. We’re excited.”

Trainer Danny Velasquez is in a similar position as he sends Grand Maneuver north for his stakes debut. A Grand Slam colt, he is making his second trip to Golden Gate Fields. On Nov. 12, he won a one-mile turf allowance race for his third straight victory, beating favored King Cola. Velasquez says he has high hopes for Grand Maneuver but that owner John Pinner is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.

Said Velasquez: “I’ve kidded the owner that this is our Derby horse, and he says that we should just concentrate on the next race, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Grand Maneuver’s three wins have come at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt at Fairplex, at seven furlongs on the synthetic surface at Hollywood Park, and a mile win on the turf here.

“He doesn’t carry a lot of muscle, like many Grand Slams, but this colt does everything,” said Velasquez. “He won on three different surfaces with three different riders.”

Grand Maneuver, Mr. Candy Bar, Luckarack, and King Colt like to sit back early. Positive Response, coming off a wire-to-wire starter-allowance victory in his first try at a mile, and Rule He Must, who set the pace in Grand Maneuver’s Nov. 12 win, will provide an honest pace.