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Apr 23, 2010

The Two Top Derby Prospects - Eskendereya & Sidney's Candy

By: by Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With less than two weeks remaining until the Kentucky Derby, two horses have separated themselves from the rest of the pack.

Eskendereya is the consensus pre-race favorite with Santa Anita Derby winner Sidney's Candy surprisingly toiling in third, one spot behind Lookin At Lucky.

Both colts have been ultra-impressive this year with undefeated three-for- three records so let's take an in-depth look at the top two contenders

Eskendereya began his career on the turf at Saratoga, a la another Zayat Stables horse, Pioneerof the Nile, who wound up second in last year's Kentucky Derby. The chestnut colt had to check slightly down the backstretch, but moved patiently on the rail to finish a fast-closing second.

His next start was also going to be on grass, but rain forced the Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park to be moved to the main track. Eskendereya broke last in the five-horse field, but drew clear late to win by 7 1/4-lengths.

Off that victory, Todd Pletcher brought the colt to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Sent off at 12-1 odds, the son of Giant's Causeway was taken up on the clubhouse turn and wound up a dismal ninth, six-lengths behind the second-place finisher, Lookin At Lucky.

After a brief vacation, Eskendereya surfaced at Gulfstream Park in an entry- level allowance race. The 6-5 favorite broke well for the first time in his young career and won gate to wire, stopping the clock at 1:36 3/5 for the one- turn mile.

The Fountain of Youth was next and the $250,000 yearling purchase did not disappoint, powering his way to an 8 1/2-length score over Jackson Bend. He ran three of his four quarters in 24 seconds flat (the other in 24 2/5 seconds), with his last eighth in a decent 12 2/5.

Eskendereya's final tune up before the Derby came in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3 and for the second straight time, he bullied a field with ease, winning by 9 3/4-lengths in 1:49 4/5. Jockey John Velazquez not only hand rode the colt through the stretch, but was looking back for the competition.

The expected Kentucky Derby favorite has two possible handicaps heading into the Run for the Roses. The first one has everything to do with his trainer, who has yet to win the Derby in 24 tries.

The second, though, is of much more importance since it involves the horse and rider.

Eskendereya has had three relatively easy trips his last three starts, sitting within two-lengths of the lead through restrained internal fractions. It is one thing to be up close early on and then flatten rivals late, but it's quite different to be able to do so from seven or eight-lengths in back of a quick pace with horses in front and alongside.

Although he's been getting off to much faster starts in 2010, he still doesn't have that quick burst to be placed ahead of speed horses, as well as the stalkers down the stretch the first time.

Velazquez will have to turn him up a notch down the back side and then the colt must respond, quite possibly behind a wall of horses, heading into the far turn.

If Eskendereya can handle what could be his most daunting trip since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he has a great chance to walk off with the roses. However, the question that must be answered prior to wagering is this: are his odds of winning greater than the probable 2-1 odds he'll be at post time?

If the answer is yes, then by all means play the favorite. If the answer is no, then the only alternative win play is to bet Sidney's Candy.

ESKENDEREYA'S MAIN COMPETITOR

As a two-year-old, Sidney's Candy flashed his brilliant speed in his second career start - a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race at Del Mar in late August. The son of Candy Ride exploded to win by four-lengths, breaking the track record by three-fifths of a second. Unfortunately, sore shins kept him on the shelf throughout the fall and his return to the races was far from inspiring. .

Sidney's Candy hopped from the gate, giving the rest of the field a two-length head start. Regrettably for his connections, he was unable to make up any ground, finishing a dismal fourth at 3-5 odds. On the bright side, it was his first race in four months while coming off an injury so trainer John Sadler did not seem too concerned. In fact, he placed him right into a stakes event for his first three-year-old race.

The seven-horse San Vicente at Santa Anita turned into a one-horse show as Sidney's Candy wired the field by 4 1/4-lengths. He ran his final three furlongs that day in 35 2/5 seconds while completing the seven panels in a brisk 1:20 3/5.

His next start was a giant leap in both class and distance. The 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes featured the top three finishers from the Robert B. Lewis (including the undefeated Caracortado) and Interactif, who ran third (beaten less than a length) two starts back in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. For Sidney's Candy to prevail in his first try around two turns, jockey Joe Talamo would have to slow the pace down with more manageable fractions than his previous races.

The young rider did just that placing the speedster in front by a length through moderate 24 1/5 and 48 2/5 numbers. Surprisingly, the colt wasn't challenged while plodding forward through a 25-second third quarter.

Talamo then let Sidney's Candy loose at the top of the stretch, and as expected, he ran his next two furlongs in a rapid 22 4/5. The final margin of victory was less than one-length over Interactif, but Talamo was hand-riding Sidney's Candy while Rafael Bejerano was all over Interactif inside the final sixteenth.

The final test before the Kentucky Derby came in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3. The start of the race didn't go quite as planned as Sidney's Candy head almost hit the ground at the break. Talamo kept his cool and the horse powered his way to the top, running almost identical early splits as his previous race: 24 and 48 2/5.

However, instead of his deliberate 25-second San Felipe third quarter, he blew out a 23 4/5 figure, followed by an equally impressive 23 4/5 fourth quarter, opening up a 1 1/2-length lead to four-lengths through the stretch.

Sidney's Candy ran his final eighth in 12.45 seconds for a final time of 1:48 flat for the 1 1/8-mile event. (The only colt to run a faster Santa Anita Derby since 2000 was Point Given, who wound up winning both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.)

Now of course Sidney's Candy might not have opened up on the field if Lookin At Lucky had not been stopped on the rail around the far turn. Still, it's fascinating that the national media has focused its attention on Lookin At Lucky's terrible trip (and to a lesser extent, Setsuko's second-place finish) rather than on the actual winner, who crushed the field by over four-lengths!

The post position draw shouldn't be much of a factor as Sidney's Candy is quick enough from the gate (more so than Eskendereya and Lookin At Lucky) to gain solid early positioning wherever he starts from. Also, his pedigree suggests he should be just as effective at 10 furlongs as he has been at nine.

The only question remaining is pace. How will he react being the hunter instead of the hunted? Can he settle in sixth or seventh, about five to six lengths off the lead and still make a winning move?

That is Sidney's Candy's million dollar question. Ironically, it's also the same question Eskendereya must answer. The main difference between the two superstars is one horse will be 2-1 and the other around 6-1.

THE NEW JEFF FRANK TOP 12

1) Sidney's Candy; 2) Eskendereya; 3) Lookin At Lucky; 4) Endorsement; 5) Awesome Act; 6) Super Saver; 7) Dublin; 8) Ice Box; 9) American Lion; 10) Interactif; 11) Noble's Promise; 12) Mission Impazible



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