Bitter Sweet

by Ed Meyer

posted on April 28, 2009 in Kentucky Derby | No Comments >>

“I’d love to win it, not just because of the prestige of the race but because it was Sid’s dream. It was really his goal in life in racing. I’d ask him what would you most like to do and he would say, ‘Win the Kentucky Derby.’ “

“I get emotional just thinking about it. I’m trying to gear myself up for it. It will be emotional for me, win or lose.”

Understandably, Jenny Craig’s eyes well up while making that statement.

She’s going to Louisville, KY., this week for the fourth time as the owner of a horse that will be running in the Kentucky Derby. This time, it’s a colt named Chocolate Candy, the son of the Craigs’ 2003 Pacific Classic winner Candy Ride and their accomplished race mare Crownette.

But she’s going for the first time as the owner/breeder of a Derby horse and for the first time without her husband, Sid, who died in July.

Founders of the weight-loss company that bears her name, the Craigs were represented in the 1992 Derby by Dr Devious, a colt Jenny purchased for $2.5 million and presented to Sid at his 60th birthday party that March. They were back again the following year with another, considerably cheaper, Derby Trail pickup named Tossofthecoin. Then, in 1998, Jenny and friend Madeleine Paulson acquired a colt named Rock and Roll for purposes of rolling the dice in the Derby.

The results: Dr Devious finished seventh, Tossofthecoin 19th (and last), Rock and Roll 14th (next to last).

“We bought the horses right before the Derby and that should have been a red flag for us,” Craig said with a laugh. “The fact that the horses were available to us should have told us that our chances were slim.

“But it was one of Sid’s dreams to win the Derby and at that time we were not really heavily into breeding. So our only hope was to be able to purchase a 3-year-old in training and, of course, that’s what we did when we purchased those horses.”

Dr Devious actually turned out to be a good bargain when he went on to take the Craigs international by winning the Epsom Derby in England and the Irish championship and competing in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France and the Japan Cup.

“With Rock and Roll, I purchased it with Madeleine Paulson (now Mrs. T. Boone Pickens),” Craig recalled. “Sid didn’t feel that the horse had a chance, but he went along with it.

“We took a lot of criticism: ‘What do women know about the Derby? They’re more concerned with their hats,’ and that really got up in our craw with Madeleine and I, and made us want to run the horse even more.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t run well, but it did come back and win the Pennsylvania Derby so it did have some talent, just not the level of talent it takes to win the Kentucky Derby.”

Indications are that Chocolate Candy might.

Chocolate Candy made his racing debut in late May last year at Hollywood Park and ran twice at Del Mar last summer. Sixth-place results marked the first two starts, both at sprint distances, but a second-place showing in a mile race at Del Mar on Aug. 29th was a portent for six straight on-the-board finishes since, three of them in graded stakes.

A third-place showing in the $750,000 CashCall Futurity in December at Hollywood Park, followed by victories in the California and El Camino Real Derbies at Golden Gate Fields in Albany, and a runner-up to Pioneerof the Nile in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, have given Chocolate Candy solid credentials for the 135th Run for the Roses.

The colt is expected to be around 8-1 when Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia announces his opening line following tomorrow’s post-position draw.

“I’m so excited about this,” Craig said. “Candy Ride had the highest Beyer (speed figure) I’ve ever seen, 123, when he won the Pacific Classic. Sid always said, we’ll never know how great that horse could have been. He could have been another Secretariat, he was so, so talented.”

An ankle injury made the track-record-setting performance by Candy Ride in the Pacific Classic the last of his career.

“I think we have a better chance this time than we ever have, I really do,” Craig said. “When I look at the pedigree of this horse, I think he has the talent and I’m hoping that he’ll have enough in the tank and be able to pull it off.”

Craig doesn’t remember the first time she saw Chocolate Candy. But it was likely at Rancho Paseana, the formerly named Rancho del Rayo training center built by Chargers owner Gene Klein in the 1980s, a mile or so inland from the Del Mar track. The Craigs purchased the facility in the early ’90s and renamed it for their two-time Eclipse Award-winning mare Paseana.

Foals arrive at Rancho Paseana in numbers and during the course of breaking and early training, standouts emerge. The late Webb Fanning, manager of the facility, pointed the colt out to her, Craig said.

“He said that he thought the horse really had talent,” she said.

Craig has followed the Derby prep races and knows the competition will be strong.

“Pioneerof the Nile is a good horse and so is I Want Revenge,” she said. “I saw I Want Revenge’s (Wood Memorial victory) and he ran a fabulous race.

“They are certainly talents to be reckoned with. But I think in winning big races there’s a lot of luck involved. (Post) position. The way the horse is (physically) that day. The way the race sets up with the pace. The surface at Churchill Downs and everything.

“I think we have as good a shot as anyone. Probably the advantage I think we have is I know Sid will be riding that horse along with the jockey.”