06/02/2011 3:36PM

Twirling Candy: Rarely a dull moment


Memo to Hollywood Park stewards Scott Chaney, Tom Ward and Kim Sawyer:

Get a good night’s sleep Friday night, because on Saturday afternoon Twirling Candy comes back to the races in the Californian, and you know what that means. Something very weird is almost guaranteed to happen.

What’s that? Bed time is past midnight Friday? Right, there’s night racing, with the card ending at 10:30, plus who knows how long Tom Ward might hang out at the Iration concert afterwards (these are the guys from Hawaii who have proven there’s more than one reggae song).

At least the stewards will be ready this time. No excuses. In the Del Mar Derby last summer, when Twirling Candy bolted to the outside entering the backstretch and carried another horse with him, the stews were so stunned – along with jockeys Joel Rosario and Victor Espinoza – that they took no action. The way they saw it was that there was no way to prove what kind of impact the interference had on the other horse since it took place so far from the finish of the race. That, and nobody fell.

Time passed, and then, after Twirling Candy failed against older horses in the Goodwood, he won the Malibu and the Strub in a manner that suggested he might be on the brink of stardom. A month later he came back to earth in the Santa Anita Handicap with the same resounding crash that usually accompanies failed Presidential nomination campaigns. Plus he had help.

At the top of the stretch that day, with Twirling Candy hanging tough between horses, Game on Dude straightened the turn and pushed TC into Setsuko, on the far outside. That should have been enough right there to get something disqualified. Instead, the stewards seemed to focus most of their attention on the ensuing display of bumper cars among the three on the lead. Twirling Candy, a horse with a heightened sense of self preservation, reacted most dramatically and backed away from the fray, eventually finishing fifth. There was the predictable inquiry, so agonizing you could have played a par five in the time it took the stewards to finally rule there would be no change.

The same board of stewards who ruled on the Santa Anita Handicap has been running things at Hollywood Park, and they’ve been a busy, visible bunch. On May 21 they disqualified St Trinians from her victory in the Milady Handicap and set down her jockey, Joe Talamo, for three days. In last Monday’s Los Angeles Handicap, Amazombie stamped himself clearly as the top sprinter in the West after a hard-fought win over Camp Victory, then was dropped to third for interference.

It is usually a waste of breath, time and/or keystrokes to complain about the umpires. They make dozens of tough calls a day, and anyone who envies the stewards their job probably doesn’t have one. This reporter, not being a regular visitor to the windows, can only hope that friends and family aren’t victimized too often by shaky decisions.

In the meantime, all concerned should continue in the hope that whoever occupies the stand is well-trained, intellectually qualified, and of sufficient life experience to bring more to the position than the guy next to me at the rail wearing the backwards ballcap and a “Git-R-Done” T-shirt, spitting soft pretzel crumbs and screaming he was robbed.

Were Amazombie and Mike Smith the aggressors in the Los Angeles, shouldering M One Rifle out of the way in pursuit of a seam? Or could M One Rifle and Chantal Sutherland be held to their share of blame for leaning into trouble after over-correcting their outward drift? That was the puzzle the stewards had to unravel.

Ancient history now. At least, that’s the way trainer Bill Spawr has decided to deal with it. Spawr, who owns Amazombie in partnership with his good friend Tom Sanford, would like to move on and enjoy what Amazombie’s future may bring, but the phone has been ringing pretty steady since the race.

“I’ve had people calling me from New Mexico, Arizona, Philadelphia, New York,” Spawr said. “All of them wanting to know how he could have come down.”

Lately, it’s only the stewards who have been able to beat Amazombie with any regularity. Going back to March of 2010 he has made 13 starts and finished first in nine of them, including wins in the Sunshine Millions Sprint and the graded Potrero Grande.

In addition to the Los Angeles, however, Amazombie was disqualified from a win in an optional allowance race on the Del Mar grass last summer. Spawr was asked if his horse had any steering problems, or other bad habits.

“None,” the trainer said. “Okay, one. He eats too much.”

Spawr credits Amazombie’s rise this year into stakes company to a simple yet serious surgical alteration last year, at age 4.

“We gelded him,” Spawr said. “He was always terrible to saddle, and his attitude wasn’t very good. But we’d had offers to sell him – none of them were enough – so we didn’t cut him, because nobody wants to buy a gelding. finally we decided to keep him, cut him, and take our chances with him.

“Since then he’s continued to change and change,” Spawr added. “I know he’s five, and a horse is supposed to be full grown by four and a half, but he doesn’t know that. I swear he’s still growing.”

Spawr has trained a lot of good ones, including the grand mare Exchange, the quick filly Enjoy the Moment, and the crack sprinters Bordonaro and Sensational Star. As far as Spawr is concerned, Amazombie belongs in that company, DQ’s or no DQ’s.

“One friend called me right after the race the other day and told me not to feel bad,” Spawr said, “because even if they took the race away from me, I’ve still got the horse. I liked the sound of that.”