After 317 consecutive days without measurable rainfall, the skies opened over Los Angeles last Thursday, delighting farmers in the area but ruining the 1963 debut all Thoroughbred horsemen had been eagerly anticipating. This was the day of the San Vicente Handicap, and the rain caused four scratches in the field of 12 3-year-olds. Three of the horses hardly figured to win the San Vicente or the other races leading up to next May's Kentucky Derby. But the fourth was Rex Ellsworth's undefeated Candy Spots, already being talked about in California racing circles as the greatest horse to come out of the West since Swaps. Considering that Candy Spots has had only three races in his young life—all of them in Chicago—this estimate might appear somewhat ludicrous if it were not for the fact that two of the estimators are Ellsworth himself and his trainer, Mish Tenney. Since this same pair also owned and trained Swaps, maybe this isn't just a case of whistling Dixie under Arcadia's palm trees.
The Ellsworth-Tenney decision to withdraw Candy Spots from the San Vicente was made only two hours before post time. A few horsemen on the grounds found it an opportune time to point out that the big chestnut colt, winner last September of the $357,250 Arlington-Washington Futurity, had a suspicious-looking ankle and that maybe all was not well in the stable of the country's leading money-winning owner of 1962. Trainer Tenney cleared up this point quickly. "The horse has never had a bad ankle, hasn't got one now, and the only thing that's bad is that we can't get him into a race," said Tenney. "We may try a six-furlong race first, but we want to run him in the February 12 San Felipe and then go from there right into the Santa Anita Derby on March 2. Actually, Candy Spots could run in the Derby without any previous starts. He's one of the easiest horses I've ever had to train."
Ellsworth, who thought Candy Spots was the best 2-year-old he ever saw, is understandably cautious about the colt's starts this year. "We didn't scratch him because we were worried about whether or not he could handle an off track. It's just that we don't want to take any chance of hurting him. In his first time out since September he would have been carrying top weight of 124 pounds and giving away weight to horses that had already won stakes this season. If he'd had one start before today I wouldn't have minded letting him go, slop or no slop."
Although he's never even seen slop, much less run in it, Candy Spots might not be bothered by it. His sire, Nigromante, could run over anything, and another of Nigromante's progeny, Black Sheep, won last year's San Vicente when the track was off.
A race with no result
As it turned out, this San Vicente proved very little. It was won by a 35-to-1 shot named Mr. Thong, whose only previous claim to fame was that he had campaigned with moderate success in stakes company on the San Francisco tracks last year. A son of the sprinter Roman Sandal, he covered the seven furlongs with ease in 1:23 4/5, winning by nearly seven lengths over Olympiad King. Way back were Royal Grounded, Turf Charger and Sky Gem, stakes winners all three, but obviously non-mudders too.
No matter what Candy Spots does in his debut at Santa Anita—whether it is this week in a $10,000 allowance or in the $50,000 mile-and-a-sixteenth San Felipe—he is certainly the most eye-catching colt in this year's classic field. He has grown some since beating Never Bend in the Chicago futurity, and now stands fully 16 hands 2 inches and weighs close to 1,100 pounds. He has a long white stripe down the middle of his face, and on his back and hind legs there is a helter-skelter collection of large white and small black spots. The markings make him look, in some respects, more like a pinto than a Thoroughbred. But it is for his qualities of conformation as a Thoroughbred that Ellsworth and Tenney think so highly of Candy Spots. He is long-bodied, with long legs and low knees and hocks. He is deep in the chest and has wide and deep stifles. His pasterns are beautiful and his neck seems just right to balance off the rest of him. "I'd say he was handsome," says Tenney. "If he has a drawback it might be in his head and ears. His ears are sort of floppy and they don't help the general appearance of his head, which is ordinary-looking. But I think an ordinary head often denotes honesty in a horse."
From mid-September until November 7, Candy Spots was turned out on the Ellsworth ranch at Chino, some 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. He began galloping on November 16, and he's worked pretty steadily every third day since then. In the Spartan atmosphere of Tenney's two barns at Santa Anita, Candy Spots has had careful treatment. "We think he's something special," says Ellsworth, "and we want to save him."
Big classic crop
Ellsworth isn't tackling the season with Candy Spots as his only 3-year-old. In fact he's got nearly 100 of them. Some, like Space Skates and Three Links, have already shown potential. Others, like Barefoot Clem, Hooky Cap and Super Stock, must still prove themselves. In addition to the Ellsworth string, there are a few other 3-year-olds of quality at Santa Anita. Besides a number of the also-rans in last week's San Vicente, the improving crop includes such horses as Tourlourou, Win-Em-All, Kingomine, Repute and Prince Mito—greater depth in this division than ever before.
Nevertheless, if Candy Spots is as good as most people in California think he is, there isn't much point in running this year's Kentucky Derby. They could just send that gold trophy on to Chino now, to stand beside the slightly rusted one brought home by Swaps. Says Santa Anita Racing Secretary Jimmy Kilroe: "A clocker at Hollywood Park last summer told me that he caught Candy Spots going an eighth in 10 seconds flat, after working a half mile in 50 seconds. If a horse can accelerate like that nobody can live with him. He may be terrific."