INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- There was plenty of debate after the Del Mar Derby, owing to the antics of Twirling Candy and the decision by the stewards to leave him in first after a severe bumping incident five furlongs from the wire. Lost amid the controversy, though, was something everyone, in hindsight, could agree on, that Twirling Candy finished brilliantly, displaying the talent only the very special possess.
Twirling Candy has raced four times, on synthetic surfaces and grass, going short and long. Each time, he has finished first, by an average margin of 3 1/2 lengths. All his previous races have been against horses his own age. On Saturday, at the Oak Tree meeting at Hollywood Park, Twirling Candy, 3, will get his most-severe test yet, when he faces older runners for the first time in the Grade 1, $250,000 Goodwood Stakes.
And even though he will be going up against such accomplished, veteran runners as Awesome Gem, Crown of Thorns, and Richard's Kid, Twirling Candy will be well-backed to knock them all off and head to the Breeders' Cup Classic five weeks later.
He won't take a back seat to them physically.
"If you look at my horse, he looks like a 5-year-old," said John Sadler, who trains Twirling Candy.
It's the maturity that is the question. Sadler is of the opinion that Twirling Candy "was almost bored" at Del Mar, racing against inferior rivals, and that the better competition in the Goodwood, and stronger pace on synthetics, will not afford Twirling Candy the opportunity to lose his focus.
"I just think what happened last time is a one-off," Sadler said. "He's a little tricky. But he's good."
Good enough to beat older horses in just his fifth start?
Sadler smiled like someone who knows the launch code.
"Not a problem," he said. "He's very special, very gifted. He might be one of the ones."
Twirling Candy already is proven over the Hollywood Park main track, having won his first two starts here. The Goodwood is at 1 1/8 miles, the same distance Twirling Candy covered in the Del Mar Derby.
Joel Rosario rode Twirling Candy in the Del Mar Derby, but he will be at Parx Racing on Saturday to ride Blind Luck in the Fitz Dixon Cotillion Stakes, so Mike Smith has picked up the mount on Twirling Candy.
"I've breezed him," Smith said. "I know his little quirks, what works and what doesn't work."
Six others entered the Goodwood, which offers an automatic berth to the BC Classic through the Win and You're In program.
Richard's Kid is coming off a victory in the Pacific Classic, his second straight in that race, beating Goodwood entrants Crowded House and Dakota Phone, who finished second and third, respectively. Smith rode him in both those wins, but took off Richard's Kid to get on Twirling Candy. Alonso Quinonez takes over on Richard's Kid.
Awesome Gem finished 10th and last in the Pacific Classic over a Del Mar course that has never suited him. He is at home at Hollywood Park, where he regularly trains. He won the Gold Cup here in July.
Crown of Thorns returned from a lengthy layoff at Del Mar to finish second in the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien Stakes. His trainer, Richard Mandella, decided to stretch him out for the Goodwood. This will be the first time the oft-injured Crown of Thorns has raced around two turns since winning the 1 1/16-mile Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in February 2008.
"He doesn't need any practice shots. I've always aimed pretty high with him," said Mandella.
Informed is making only his second start following an 11-month layoff.