With a second place finish in the Grade I CashCall Futurity fresh on his mind, jockey Gary Stevens bided his time aboard Candy Boy in Saturday's Grade II, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes and the result was a rousing half length win, as the John Sadler trainee won in-hand going 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.83.
“I just wanted Gary to be patient, because this horse runs a distance, no problem,” said Sadler. “He kind of had a premature move in the (Dec. 14) CashCall…I think Gary will tell you that, you know, he moved him a little bit quick. Now he knows him a little better. He's been on him a couple times in the morning, so we felt good going into today's race.”
When asked about Candy Boy's next start, Sadler left little doubt that it would be in the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 5.
“When you're looking around the United States, weather everywhere else is terrible, so right now, I'm staying right here. They had to cancel at Oaklawn (in Hot Springs, Ark.) on Friday, so we're not looking to go anywhere but to stay right in our own backyard.”
Owned and bred in Kentucky by Lee and Susan Searing's CRK Stable, LLC, the 3-year-old colt by Candy Ride was the second choice at 2-1 and paid $6.60, $3.20 and $2.20. With the winner's share of $120,000, Candy Boy hiked his earnings to $305,600. He now has two wins and two seconds from six starts.
Perhaps most importantly, Candy Boy picked up 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for the win, while the second, third and fourth place finishers were awarded four, two and one, respectively.
With longshot Diamond Bachelor sent to the early lead by Julien Leparoux, 6-5 favorite Midnight Hawk, with Mike Smith up, sat a close third early, just off both Diamond Bachelor and eventual second place finisher Chitu, who like the favorite, is trained by Bob Baffert.
Although Midnight Hawk appeared to be sitting a comfortable trip just in behind splits of 23.33, 46.80 , 1:10.84 and 1:35.64, he struggled the final eighth, finishing third, 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner.
“For a big horse he has a lot of acceleration and confidence on the (last) turn,” said Stevens of the winner. “I was closer than I thought we were going to be today. He's grown a lot lately…but he's also grown mentally too. I've been up for his last five works and I've been so impressed and so far we haven't really squeezed the trigger.
“The gallop out was huge today and I was already thinking about the Santa Anita Derby as we were galloping out around the (Club House) turn. It was a lot of fun and he didn't even take a deep breath after the race. He's a super, majorly talented racehorse.”
Chitu, off at 9-2 with Martin Garcia, shook loose of Diamond Bachelor and Midnight Hawk leaving the three sixteenths pole, but was no match for the winner late. Chitu (pronounced Sheetoo) finished 1 1/4 lengths in front of Midnight Hawk and paid $5.00 and $3.00.
Undefeated Midnight Hawk, who was favored on the strength of his win in the one mile, Grade III Sham Stakes Jan. 11, tried to stay with Chitu the final eighth, but was third best, finishing 4 1/4 lengths in front of Diamond Bachelor. He paid $2.10 to show.
“He ran well today,” said Smith of the favorite. “Those were our best 3-year-olds, so I was really hoping he would kick on when I asked him. He was a bit keen early on. I really can't give him a lot of excuses. I mean, I was there at the quarter pole and I wasn't at the wire…He didn't lug in at all…He just didn't kick on.”
Racing resumes at Santa Anita on Sunday, with first post time at 12:30 p.m. Admission gates will open at 10:30 a.m.
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