San Felipe: More Questions Than Answers

Danzing Candy holds off the late charge of Mor Spirit.

Danzing Candy holds off the late charge of Mor Spirit.

Danzing Candy was the “buzz” horse the week before Santa Anita’s San Felipe Stakes. He is a brilliant son of the brilliant Twirling Candy, how could he not be? He is a tall, dark and strapping young colt with a great deal of speed, but the question was could he beat proven stakes horses?

He answered that question with a strong affirmative.

Danzing Candy’s win was visually pleasing. He wired the field, fended off a strong move from Exaggerator, while putting enough distance between himself and the field to hold off Mor Spirit’s late charge. His rather pedestrian final time of 1:43 seconds flat for the 1 1/16-mile journey was given the benefit of the doubt by all main speed figure producers. This was probably due to the fact that the track had taken a good deal of rain the afternoon before, causing it to play slower than normal.

Equibase gave him a 110, the co-highest number earned by a three-year-old this season. Beyer bestowed a 100, which is also the co-highest of any three-year-old around two turns, and Brisnet gave him a 104.

Despite the votes of confidence given by Brisnet, Beyer, and Equibase, I have a nagging feeling that Danzing Candy’s race wasn’t as good as it looked.

He ran his competition off their feet through the initial half-mile, but then Mike Smith smartly began to slow the pace. After going the first quarter in a smoking 22.96 seconds, and his second in a solid 23.11, Smith was able to switch Danzing Candy completely off, getting the third quarter in a dawdling 24.93 seconds.

My question is: Where was all the other speed?

Uncle Lino, I Will Score, and Smokey Image all had shown that they possessed great speed — and typically ran their best when allowed to use that speed. So, why is it that when Smith went to slow down the pace, none of those horses were present to force the winner to keep the pace honest?

Why is it that the only horse that made a move to do such a thing was Exaggerator, who went from sixth to second, running his individual third quarter in 23.89 seconds? Why was Kent Desormeaux the only jockey able to sense the slow down, and the only one to try to do anything about it?

Jockey Mike Smith guided Danzing Candy to a wire-to-wire score in the San Felipe.

Jockey Mike Smith guided Danzing Candy to a wire-to-wire score in the San Felipe (photo via www.hkjc.com).

Mike Smith schooled every jockey in the San Felipe and, it is my opinion, that he won that race just as much as Danzing Candy, if not more. He put all but one rider to sleep, forcing that rider to make a very premature move. I can’t say for sure that Danzing Candy loses if he is forced to go his third quarter in another :23 and change, but the possibility is a strong one.

Another question I have now is how seriously do I take this win? Exaggerator clearly didn’t have the ideal trip, making his move with over half a mile left to run, causing him to flatten out in the stretch. The move was a brilliant one, but even top horses can’t sustain a move like that for a half mile. Mor Spirit showed up, like always, but there is a good chance that Baffert didn’t have him fully cranked for this effort.

After having some time to think about it, I do believe the top three are legit, even Danzing Candy, however I don’t believe Danzing Candy is the best of the trio. He proved that not taking him seriously is a huge mistake. He proved that, if you leave him alone on the front, he won’t surrender the lead. What he didn’t show is that he could withstand pace pressure and still hold. The Santa Anita Derby could show us that, but from the way the possible field looks, I seriously doubt it.

It looks like we may have to wait until the first Saturday in May until we find out just how good Danzing Candy is.

Laura Pugh
Laura Pugh has been in love with horses since age five, when she took her first ride as a birthday gift. When she was nine years old she began to take riding lessons as a hunter/jumper. Her first introduction to racing was watching War Emblem’s Triple Crown attempt and, from there, she was hooked. Her knowledge of the sport was self-learned, as she took to reading every book on the topic that she could lay hands on.

In 2009 she began her own blog named Horsin’ Around, where she earned a reputation for her passionate and fiery articles. It was that recognition that soon landed her a position as author of Dead Heat Debates, one of Horse Racing Nation’s many blogs. Since then she has written for other publications such as TwinSpires.com and Lady and the Track, always demonstrating the same fiery passion that her followers have come to expect.