INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Five months into the year, the older male division in California lacks a leader, an issue that could be sorted to some extent after Saturday's $150,000 Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park.
Since the start of the year, Aggie Engineer, Crown of Thorns, Game On Dude, Gladding, Misremembered, and Twirling Candy have won stakes for older horses on the main track at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park in a manner that suggested each would be the one to follow. Misremembered has since been retired, while Aggie Engineer, Gladding, and Twirling Candy were beaten in the Santa Anita Handicap, but start in the Californian, seeking to restore their reputations.
Crown of Thorns, the winner of the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap last month, is bound for the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 18. Game On Dude, the winner of the Big Cap and third in the Lone Star Handicap in Texas on Monday, will make his next start in the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 9, where he will face defending champion Awesome Gem, the winner of the Lone Star Handicap.
Twirling Candy arguably has the most at stake in the Californian. The winner of the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters in December and the Grade 2 Strub Stakes in February, Twirling Candy was a troubled fifth in the Santa Anita Handicap as the 1-2 favorite. If he wins the Californian, he will be favored for the Gold Cup.
Twirling Candy, who races for breeder Jenny Craig and William Farish and Marty Wygod, missed training time because of an abscess in a foot in April but has trained consistently, and quickly, in recent weeks.
"He's come back steady, given time," trainer John Sadler said on Wednesday. "He came out of the Big Cap fine."
In the Californian, run over 1 1/8 miles and a key prep for the Gold Cup, Twirling Candy will also face Big Cap runner-up Setsuko; Honour the Deputy, who was fourth in the Mervyn LeRoy; Soul Candy, who won the California Cup Classic here last October and was fourth in the Big Cap; Spurrier, who has placed in four stakes this year and was eighth in the Big Cap; and Victory Pete, who is seeking his first stakes win.
Setsuko is capable of winning, but is past due for the second win of his career, which includes 12 starts and 5 second-place finishes. He is still eligible for a first-condition allowance race, which trainer Richard Mandella considered for the 4-year-old colt recently.
"It didn't fill," he said.
Owned by Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, Setsuko was being pointed for the $1 million Charles Town Classic in West Virginia in April but did not make the trip after Mandella was informed by racing officials there that the race might oversubscribe and that Setsuko would not be guaranteed a berth.
"He never got on the plane," Mandella said.
Mandella considers the Californian as a prep for the Gold Cup, but is thinking no further. A race such as the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 28 is not on Mandella's mind, at least not publicly.
"That's enough," he said of the California and Gold Cup. "Let's see what happens. His works have been very good."