When Danzig Candy was pointed to the Kentucky Derby, which was no certainty after his last race, we were sure of at least one thing - there is going to be some early speed in the race. Likely favorite Nyquist and Wood Memorial winner Outwork both have early speed, but both have also shown that they don't need to be in the lead if things don't work out that way. Danzig Candy is a different story - he has led through the second call in each of his last four races and into the stretch in all but one. He is a pure speed horse - and a pretty good one. Having a true speed horse makes an early strong pace much more likely, and that makes things much more interesting - both in terms of early positioning and because it sets things up for the huge number of closers in this field. In other words, whether he is a real contender or not - which is up to you to decide - the Kentucky Derby is dramatically more interesting this year because Danzig Candy is in it.
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Last race: The Santa Anita Derby would pretty much qualify as a disaster for Danzig Candy. Leading the way out of the gate the horse lost his mind, and Mike Smith couldn't or wouldn't do anything to control him. He ran the first half mile in one tick over 45 seconds. That is suicidal speed in the best of conditions, never mind on a sloppy and heavy track. Imagine that you were running a half mile foot race and you bolted off the starting line at your to 40-yard dash speed. Now you know how Danzig Candy was feeling by the final turn. He was cooked. He weakened badly, and though he wound up in fourth place, he was a county or two away from the winner. After the race Smith made it clear that the horse hated the surface, and watching the race again makes that believable. Still, if he was that incapable of relaxing and setting a reasonable pace there, how is he going to fare in Kentucky when the field is bigger, the crowd is much larger, and the day is dramatically crazier?
Prior experience: there are two things to say about this horse - he is a one -dimensional speed horse, and he knows how to win. After a disastrous debut at the end of November he came back a month later to break his maiden convincingly. Of note, that was Mike Smith's first time on the horse. Next he won an allowance race in February before joining stakes company for the San Felipe a month later. He made one heck of a statement there, wiring the field and finishing ahead of Mor Spirit and Exaggerator - the two horses that finished atop the Santa Anita Derby, and which Danzig Candy will face again in Louisville. After that first race the first time Danzig Candy was not in the lead was when he ran out of gas in the Santa Anita Derby.
Trainer: Cliff Sise, Jr.. Some of the trainers in this field have won six graded stakes in a month. Sise has won six in his career - with the first two coming all the way back in 1996. Danzig Candy is just the fourth graded stakes winner he has ever trained. Sise actually left public training in 2011, first managing a training stable owned by Jenny Craig (yes, that Jenny Craig) and then working as a private trainer in Saudi Arabia before returning to the game in 2014. He has elevated his game since. He lacks big-race experience, but he certainly doesn't lack skill or experience overall. The horse will be ready.
Jockey: What can you say about Mike Smith? He has been a hall of famer for 13 years already. He has won a Derby, a Preakness and two Belmonts. He has finished second in the Derby four times, too. Oh yeah - he also has a ridiculous 22 Breeders' Cup victories, which is a record by a wide margin. He doesn't ride a heavy schedule, but he's a big-race rider who knows how to get the most out of a horse when it matters. The horse is in good hands.
Breeding: Sire Twirling Candy is early in his career - this is the first crop of three year olds. Early returns are positive. Twirling Candy's sire Candy Ride is very talented - most notably his son Shared Belief was a superstar who could seemingly handle real distance. Danzig Candy's dam, Talkin and Singing, is a half sister to Better Talk Now, a wildly-successful runner who excelled at longer distances, though all on turf. There is a lot of stamina in the pedigree, though, not necessarily directly on the dirt surface of the Derby. The most interesting part of the pedigree, though, is damsire Songandaprayer. I'll never forget that horse - for reasons that could be a sneak preview of Danzig Candy's future. In the 2001 Kentucky Derby Songandaprayer flew out of the gate and set completely insane before slamming into a wall and winding up 13th. The suicidal effort set things up perfectly for underwhelming closer Monarchos to pick up the pieces and win the race. That crazy early effort wore Point Given out and forced the great horse to have nothing left in the stretch - causing Bob Baffert to wait 14 more years to win the Triple Crown than he probably should have.
Odds: Not surprisingly, odds have been on the climb for this horse. When the final official Kentucky Derby futures pool opened the weekend before the Santa Anita Derby, Danzig Candy was 12/1 on the morning line. Three days later he closed at 16/1. After the disappointment in the Santa Anita Derby the odds then climbed - he now sits at +2000 to win the Derby at 5Dimes.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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