Candy Boy picked to be Derby favorite

CHESTER – The scenery was a bit different for Candy Boy when he stepped off the van Wednesday evening at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort. Not that it matters, of course, to the 9-5 morning line favorite for Saturday’s Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby presented by Xpressbet.

Candy Boy has spent most of his career racing In Southern California – at Del Mar, Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos. Prior to this week, he had made only one other out-of-state voyage. This was to Churchill Downs, when he finished unplaced in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.

Near home, the colt has been a formidable competitor. His career resume includes nine starts, a pair of wins, a quartet of placings and purse earnings of $525,600. On Feb. 8, Candy Boy was a half-length winner of the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Memorial at Santa Anita.

He finished second in the Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity at Hollywood last November, and third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in April. In his most recent effort, the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Derby on July 5, Candy Boy finished second. It was his first start in nine weeks following an aggressive winter/spring campaign.

His trainer is John W. Sadler, who turned 58 on Wednesday. Sadler originally from Long Beach, Calif., has been conditioning a thoroughbred stable in and around those parts since 1978. While based on one of the toughest circuits on this or any continent, Sadler has accumulated 118 career graded wins.

Sadler doesn’t ship from familiar surroundings with frequency, but he’s achieved some significant scores when doing so. In 2005, Sadler won the $1 million Ocala Breeders’ Sales Classic at Gulfstream Park with Musique Toujours. In 2010, he brought Line of David to Oaklawn Park and won the Arkansas Derby.

A Kentucky-born homebred who campaigns for C R K Stable (headed by Lee Searing), Candy Boy is a son of the Argentinian-bred stallion Candy Ride. The latter was a Grade 1 winner in his homeland, and also won the 2003 Pacific Classic at Del Mar in track-record clocking of 1:59.11 for 1 miles.

She’s an Eleven, the dam of Candy Boy, was a pretty good racehorse not a star, but she was a stakes winner at 8 furlongs at Hollywood, was stakes-placed at seven furlongs at Santa Anita and garnered purse earnings of $243,560.

Go back five generations on the bottom side of the pedigree of She’s an Eleven, and there lies a pair of Northern Dancer crosses. That might be significant, although in some cases is isn’t. Bloodline assessment tends to elude exactitude.

Proof does exist in performance. Candy Boy’s Robert B. Lewis victory was achieved at the 1 1/16-mile distance. The 1 1/8 miles that the West Virginia Derby requires seems to be well within his talents. He missed victory at that distance by 4 lengths at Los Alamitos.

The horse that beat him, Shared Belief, has become the undefeated terror of the West Coast, and is being pointed toward the Pacific Classic. Sadler and Searing belief that the West Virginia Derby is a better spot for Candy Boy.

He will be partnered in the West Virginia Derby by Corey Nakatani, who won the race in 2012 with the Steve Asmussen-trainee Macho Macho. Nakatani, age 43, has achieved 591 stakes scores during his 27 years of racing riding. He’s long been based on that tough Southern California circuit, too.

Sadler and Nakatani haven’t teamed up with frequency over the decades. But Nakatani does have a career strike rate of 18-percent aboard horses trained by Sadler, and a 26.3 percent strike rate with Sadler trainees in graded stakes.

To date, the most prominent victory by Sadler and Nakatani as a team came with Christmas Boy in the 1999 edition of the Bing Crosby Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Del Mar.

The morning line suggests that the West Virginia Derby could move to the top of the list on Saturday.