What Twirling Candy lacks in professionalism and cool-headedness he makes up for in searing talent. Any doubts about where this son of Candy Ride stacks up in his division was wiped away in his most recent start at Hollywood Park. In the first half of the Grade II Californian, Twirling Candy was almost unmanageable, pulling rider Joel Rosario along like a kamikaze pilot rushing toward certain doom. The 2/5 favorite dropped back to last in the field, looking like he’d just blown all his chances of a comeback, but when the field turned for home and the horse saw daylight, Twirling Candy exploded like a greased cannonball and won under a hand-ride. Now that he’s reclaimed his title as Best in the West, Twirling Candy will seek revenge this Saturday on Game on Dude, the horse who beat him after Twirling Candy suffered a horrendous trip in the Big Cap.
This year’s edition of the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup is all about the Big Cap rematch, as both Dudes and Setsuko will re-enter the fray against Twirling Candy, trying to vex the favorite as they did in the now-infamous Santa Anita Handicap. Joining the rumble will be 8-year-old war horse Awesome Gem, who is trying to defend his title by winning his second Gold Cup in a row. The field of 8 will traverse the classic distance of 1 ¼-miles over Hollywood’s Cushion Track, setting up for a campaign headed toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic this fall.
Game on Dude has had trouble finding the winner’s circle since the Big Cap; last time out, the Baffert trainee finished 3rd in the Grade III Lone Star Handicap under Martin Garcia to Awesome Gem. Before that, he finished 2nd in the Grade III Charles Town Classic. The other Baffert entrant and second “Dude” in this race, First Dude, is entering the Hollywood Gold Cup on a 2-race win streak, a far cry from his 2010 campaign, where the maiden winner was thrown to the wolves in Grade I competition race after race; but ever since his running style was changed under the tutelage of new trainer Bob Baffert, First Dude has blossomed. Last time out, the imposing horse closed 5-wide to win his first stakes race, the Grade III Alysheba, in a talent-packed field at Churchill Downs. It seems the Baff has figured out the Dude, and now the horse who had once become something of a running gag in Grade I competition has a legitimate chance to upset. If First Dude wins the Hollywood Gold Cup, he would be a deserving winner; with his new late-closing running style, the classic distance looks like it may actually suit him well.
What more can be said about Awesome Gem? It’s impossible to dislike this little warhorse. Just when you think he’s starting to get soft, he comes back to win a graded race. His record stands so far at 44 starts with 8 wins and 14 seconds; he has never dodged a fight with even the most imposing foe—he has faced champions Zenyatta, Curlin, Street Sense, and Midnight Lute, among others. At the ripe age of 7, he won his first Grade I race, the Hollywood Gold Cup, against the heavily favored Rail Trip. Now he will be trying to become only the third horse in history to win back-to-back editions of the race, and he will have to plow a hole through Twirling Candy to do so. But what are his chances here at Hollywood? Well, he doesn’t usually win races close together, but he appears to be in peak form and stands as much of a chance as the Dudes at bringing down the favorite. In his last two starts, Awesome Gem won the Grade III Lone Star Handicap, and then went on to finish 2nd in the Grade III Cornhusker. Age looks good on Awesome Gem, so to overlook him in this race would be to slight to this horse’s huge heart.
Twirling Candy was running with blinkers off for the first time in the Californian, but it didn’t seem to calm him down much. The colt has drawn post 1 in the Hollywood Gold Cup, so don’t be surprised if Crazy Candy becomes rank early on once again when he gets behind horses. This will be a true test for the 4-year-old bay, as he has never won a race at 1 ¼-miles. If he can stay out of trouble and runs his race, Twirling Candy should cement himself as not only the King of California, but of the older male division.
The Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup will be broadcast live from Hollywood Park on ESPN. Post time is approximately 7:37pm ET.