03/13/2016 10:13AM

Road to the Derby: San Felipe Stakes

Emily Shields
Danzing Candy earned a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the San Felipe.

Grade 2, $400,345 San Felipe Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Santa Anita, March 12, 2016

 (50 Derby qualifying points for a win, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth)

 Winner: Danzing Candy, by Twirling Candy

 Trainer: Cliff Sise Jr.

 Jockey: Mike Smith

 Owner: Halo Farms, and Jim and Diane Bashor

 Beyer Speed Figure: 100

 This was the strongest Kentucky Derby prep to date, in terms of depth, as five of the six runners were current members of the Derby Watch top 20. DANZING CANDY, in his stakes debut, won for the third straight time, all at Santa Anita, all with Smith, and he got a career-best Beyer Speed Figure.

 Danzing Candy had had trouble leaving the gate in his prior starts, and in the seconds before this field was dispatched he was moving about in the gate, but when the stalls opened he left alertly and took the lead through solid opening fractions of 22.96 seconds for the quarter-mile and 46.11 seconds for a half over a surface that was fast but a bit dull after heavy rain the previous day. He maintained a clear lead down the backstretch, with Smith glancing back a couple of times to assess his rivals. He fended off a bid from EXAGGERATOR in upper stretch while under steady left-handed pressure, and maintained a safe margin over the late-running MOR SPIRIT.

 Mor Spirit, who finished second, was quite fresh the first part of the race, possibly because one of his workouts leading up to this race went awry. He pulled aggressively, forcing jockey Gary Stevens to check him behind horses twice on the first turn. He finally settled down into the backstretch and was fifth, in front of only Exaggerator. Racing off the rail, he allowed Exaggerator to move inside of him going into the far turn, putting him last with three furlongs to go. He then followed Exaggerator around the rest of the turn, stayed inside in upper stretch, angled out in midstretch and got up for second. It looked like school was in session, and I expect him to move forward in the Santa Anita Derby on April 9, which is where he and Danzing Candy are scheduled to race next.

 Exaggerator, who finished third, started from the outside post, was forced out a bit at the break by SMOKEY IMAGE, had no speed, was guided to the rail into the first turn, and trailed while well behind his rivals. He began an extended run inside horses with about a half-mile go to, had to shove UNCLE LINO aside nearing the quarter pole and got within about a length of Danzing Candy, but he could not get past Danzing Candy and then lost second in deep stretch to Mor Spirit. I had always thought more distance and experience would serve him well, because Exaggerator is a son of Curlin and he has won going 1 1/16 miles, but he performed this day like a horse whose best game is making one run around one turn. In addition, while I think gallop-outs are among the more overrated aspects of handicapping – after all, the race is over – it sure looked like Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit had far more left in the tank when this race was over than did Exaggerator.

 Uncle Lino, who finished fourth, broke sharply from his inside stall but conceded the lead to Danzing Candy while being rated. He was taken off the rail around the first turn, a move that caused Mor Spirit to check, then took up a stalking position a couple of lengths behind Danzing Candy. He was asked hard with less than three furlongs left to go after Danzing Candy, but could not advance, then was pushed aside by Exaggerator near the quarter pole, and lost ground through the lane while failing to change leads.

 Smokey Image, who was fifth, veered out at the start and then had just enough speed to wind up four paths wide around the first turn, outside Uncle Lino and I WILL SCORE. He remained wide down the backstretch and into the far turn, had nothing to offer with three furlongs to go and dropped back to last, was angled inside I Will Score in upper stretch, was late to change leads, and never made any impact in a surprisingly dull effort while suffering the first loss of his career.

I Will Score, who finished last of six, was three paths wide around the first turn while amongst a flight of horses stalking Danzing Candy, raced between Uncle Lino and Smokey Image down the backstretch, had to be asked hard to keep up going into the far turn, but was done before even reaching the quarter pole and also did not change leads in the lane.