The big prerace puzzle among Santa Anita horsemen was not really whether Candy Spots was a good horse. Agreement was general that Owner Rex Ellsworth had the best horse, but the question was whether, after just one six-furlong prep race, Candy Spots was ready to win at nine furlongs. Owner Ellsworth and Trainer Meshach Tenney had wanted more time to prepare. They would have preferred him to have at least two pre-Derby races instead of one. When time ran out on them (they had purposely slowed his training down when the track went through a long spell of muddy and sloppy conditions), they worked him hard and fast to get him ready. And it came off.
"I was pleased with his race, I suppose," said Ellsworth later, "but not very satisfied with his condition. He was a long way from his real race today." What next for Candy Spots? "It's possible," says Ellsworth, "that we'll go to the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 30. But we might train this horse in the West and go right to Churchill Downs with him."
Ellsworth is just as aware as the rest of sporting America that his colt's chief rival in Louisville will be Never Bend. So is Shoemaker. In the paddock before the Santa Anita Derby, the crowd had already been informed by the track's public address system that Never Bend had won the Flamingo Stakes that afternoon. "Hey, Shoe," many called, "Never Bend won by five lengths—let's see what you can do now."
The Shoe did well, and so did Candy Spots, who may be on the way to establishing a popular equine personality in the same category as Carry Back. As to his quality, the interim judgment must be that the Spotted Wonder has the heart and the potential to be the best in the world.
IT WAS EASY FOR NEVER BEND
Some three hours after the running of the $135,600 Flamingo at Hialeah Park, Alfred Vanderbilt picked up his telephone in Miami Beach and called a dancing friend named Fred Astaire in California. "Fred," said Vanderbilt, "would you mind putting the telephone down next to the television set so I can hear the Santa Anita Derby?" Naturally Fred Astaire didn't mind, and Alfred Vanderbilt heard a colt named Candy Spots win the Santa Anita Derby even if some of his competition did lie down for him.
Ten years ago, on a soft May afternoon in Louisville, the last undefeated horse to enter a Derby was locked into the starting gate. His name was Native Dancer, his owner was Alfred Vanderbilt and he suffered the only defeat of his lifetime when a front-running dude named Dark Star beat him a head on the post. The owner of Dark Star was Captain Harry Guggenheim and, if anyone has a horse that can beat the unbeaten Candy Spots this year, it is this same Guggenheim. In the Flamingo it took only one minute 49 2/5 seconds for Guggenheim's Never Bend to prove that he is easily the best of the eastern 3-year-olds. A 37-to-1 shot, King Toots, was second, and Royal Ascot, an early-season hopeful trained by Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, was third.
Taking command right from the start, Never Bend drew off to win by five easy lengths, leaving behind nine other—pardon the expression—horses. At no time did any one of Never Bend's opponents get close; for the crowd of 32,000 the only real excitement came from watching a fine solo performance, not a contest.
In all the history of $100,000 races there probably has never been such a simple victory. Jockey Manuel Ycaza had pushed Never Bend right to the front in the first two strides. Going into the first turn Never Bend was two lengths in front, and Ycaza had a pleasant trip around the racetrack with plenty of time for examining the hibiscus and bougainvillaea. "It is easy," he said later. "This is a fine, smart horse and he is not dumb-headed like his sire, Nasrullah. He is strong, very strong, a little bit stronger than me. When we get into the stretch I gave him two taps with the whip to keep him honest, and off he goes again. 'Bye-bye, boys,' I say to the other riders. It was, like the man said, another job very well done."
There is no doubt that Never Bend beat "nothing at all" in the Flamingo. The colts which Candy Spots defeated also were hardly the type to build monuments to. Never Bend is a good horse but as yet nothing more. He has won close to $500,000 with his nine victories in 12 starts. He is a picture horse with a beautiful, strong head and a roving eye. His stablehands call him Smokey because of his dark coloring, and when he takes to the racetrack he is a favorite on looks alone in any post parade.