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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.


Twirling Candy, the top-rated horse on this week’s initial NTRA National Poll of 2011, will be heavily favored to endorse that distinction in Saturday’s 74th running of the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino. Click here to see complete polls.

The mile-and-one-quarter “Big ‘Cap”, Santa Anita’s signature race, is one of three Grade I stakes races to be run on Saturday at the Arcadia, Calif. racetrack. The California-bred Caracortado heads the $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile on turf, and the $250,000 Santa Anita Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles features Grade I winners Zazu, A Z Warrior and Turbulent Descent.

But it is Twirling Candy who will be the racing world’s primary focus. High weighted at 122 pounds, he is the overwhelming 4-5 morning line favorite among 11 entrants in the event that offered racing’s first $100,000 purse in its 1935 inaugural.

Trained by John Sadler and to be ridden by Joel Rosario, Twirling Candy began the Santa Anita season by breaking the track record for seven furlongs while winning the Malibu Stakes on December 26 in a torrid 1:19 3/5. “When you’re on the best horse like Twirling Candy,” commented Rosario, “it’s no surprise that he ran that fast.”

The bay colt returned with a romp in the Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds. He was hand ridden by Rosario to a 4 ½-length triumph, stopping the clock for 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.20.

At 54, Sadler, who has been training Thoroughbreds for 30 years, is enjoying a banner meet, having won eight graded stakes at the current stand.The former show horse rider is focused on keeping his excitement in check.

“My job is just to be a good steward and take good care of him because he’s a natural runner,” Sadler said following Twirling Candy’s Strub sizzler. “My only concern is that I do a good job because I really feel this is the best horse in the country.

Sadler, whose only previous entrant in the Big ‘Cap was fifth-place Zappa in 2008, may well have the leading challenger to Twirling Candy in his own barn: Gladding, a wire-to-wire winner of the Grade II San Antonio Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on February 11.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who gained his second Big ‘Cap victory with Misremembered last year, will attack this year’s running from four angles with First Dude, Game On Dude, Spurrier and Tweebster. Only the legendary Charlie Whittingham, in 1976, ever ran as many horses in a Santa Anita Handicap.Whittingham, who won the classic race nine times from 66 career starters, could do no better than a seventh-place finish with Top Command in 1976.
The complete field for the Santa Anita Handicap, in post position order, is: Soul Candy (jockey: Garrett Gomez, weight: 114, morning line odds: 30-1); Spurrier (Alonso Quinonez, 115, 15-1); Gladding (Rafael Bejarano, 117, 6-1); Pode Ir (David Flores, 112, 50-1); Twirling Candy (Joel Rosario, 122, 4-5); Setsuko (Victor Espinoza, 112, 30-1); Quindici Man (Martin Pedroza, 115, 30-1); First Dude (Martin Garcia, 116, 5-1); Tweebster (Mike Smith, 116, 15-1); Aggie Engineer (Joseph Talamo, 118, 6-1; and Game On Dude (Jesus Velazquez, 115, 15-1).

He’s not alone in being overshadowed by Eclipse champion and stablemate Uncle Mo, but Saturday afternoon at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park, N.Y., Stay Thirsty will step into the limelight when he heads a field of nine 3-year-olds in the 58th running of the Grade III, $250,000 Gotham Stakes, New York’s first major prep for the Kentucky Derby.

Stay Thirsty will be making his 2011 debut for owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher – the same duo behind early Derby favorite Uncle Mo – as the 9-5 morning line choice in the 1 1/16-mile Gotham.New York’s leading rider Ramon Dominguez will be in the saddle. Off since finishing fifth behind Uncle Mo in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November, Stay Thirsty arrived at Pletcher’s Belmont Park barn Wednesday morning from Florida, where he has been training with his more celebrated counterpart.

“I think when Stay Thirsty gets into the starting gate Saturday, he’s going to look to his left, look to his right, and have a big smile on his face when he sees Uncle Mo isn’t there,” said Repole.
Training at Palm Meadows training center in Florida, Stay Thirsty has worked several times in company with Uncle Mo, with the pair most recently going five furlongs in 1:00.60.

“He’s been on an identical schedule as Uncle Mo, and in the three breezes he’s had with him, he’s held his own,” said Pletcher. “He’s handled each assignment we’ve given him.”

Saturday’s assignment means facing eight other sophomores whose connections have a May 7 trip to Louisville on their minds, including the streaking Toby’s Corner, who will be going for his fourth straight win in the Gotham.

Trained by Graham Motion, the late-running Bellamy Road colt won a pair of races at Laurel Park before heading north to the Big A, where he was an impressive two-length winner of the 1 1/16-mile Whirlaway over a muddy, sealed track on February 5.

“I think each of his races has been somewhat of a progression,” said Motion, who trains Toby’s Corner for Dianne Cotter. “He kind of got to gawking at the eighth pole in the Whirlaway, as he had in his previous race, but he got it together and kind of won nicely. Every race is a step up, and I hope he shows he belongs with these caliber horses.”

Eddie Castro is back aboard Toby’s Corner, the 5-2 second choice on the morning line, from post position 4.

The complete field for the Gotham, in post position order, is: The Fed Eased (jockey: Jose Valdivia, weight: 116 lbs., morning line odds: 8-1); Nacho Saint (Joe Bravo, 116, 6-1); Starship Caesar (Eurico Rosa da Silva, 116, 15-1); Toby’s Corner (Eddie Castro, 120, 5-2); Stay Thirsty (Ramon Dominguez, 116, 9-5); Isn’t He Perfect (J. Rodriguez, 116, 30-1); Preachintothedevil (Junior Alvarado, 116, 6-1); Norman Asbjornson (Julian Pimentel, 120, 20-1); and Dawly (Cornelio Velasquez, 116, 12-1).

Also on the Saturday Aqueduct card is the Grade III, $150,000 Tom Fool Handicap at six furlongs for older sprinters. Todd Pletcher, who captured the 2009 running with Munnings, will attempt to defend his Tom Fool title with a pair of entrants for Repole Stable: Calibrachoa and Have You Ever.