But before Candy Ride made his mark at stud, he left an indelible impression as a racehorse. Although he raced just six times, Candy Ride never tasted defeat while demonstrating the talent and power of a truly elite racehorse. Never was his ability more apparent than in the $1 million Pacific Classic in 2003 at Del Mar, where he trounced three talented rivals in a record-setting performance unequaled to this day.
The saga began when the Argentine-bred colt dominated three races in his home country by a combined margin of 28 lengths. The Gran Premio San Isidro and the Gran Premio Joaquin de Anchorena — both top-level races against older rivals — went his way by eight lengths apiece. No one could match Candy Ride’s speed and stamina.
This display of domination caught the eye of Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally. Best known for conditioning the two-time Horse of the Year John Henry, McAnally had enjoyed ample success with South American imports, plucking Bayakoa, Paseana, Festin, Ibero, and Different from Argentina to win championships and Grade 1 races in North America.
In Candy Ride, McAnally saw another star in the making, and so he convinced owners Sidney and Jenny Craig to purchase the colt for $900,000.
The Aug. 25, 2003 edition of Louisville, Kentucky’s The Courier-Journal reported:
“At the time, McAnally predicted Candy Ride would be the horse to give the Craigs a victory in the race they most wanted to win — the Pacific Classic.”
McAnally took his time with Candy Ride, letting him acclimate to his new home before entering him in a 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claiming race at Hollywood Park on June 7. Although Candy Ride’s big victories in Argentina had come on turf, he handled dirt just fine to win his North American debut by three lengths.
One month later, McAnally switched Candy Ride back to turf and watched as his star colt — not yet four years old — outduel older rivals to win the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 American Handicap in a brisk 1:46.20 seconds.
With these prep runs under his belt, Candy Ride arrived at Del Mar for the Pacific Classic. The 1 ¼-mile race would mark his stiffest test. Not only would he be stretching out in distance, he would be facing a small but elite field led by the Whitney Handicap and Travers Stakes winner Medaglia d’Oro, the 3-5 betting favorite. The two-time Santa Anita Handicap winner Milwaukee Brew and the future Japan Cup Dirt winner Fleetstreet Dancer added even more firepower to the competitive field.
Unfortunately, prerace preparations didn’t go quite as planned. Candy Ride was scheduled to be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, but a week before the race, Stevens was injured in a spill at Arlington Park. Suddenly, Candy Ride was without a jockey for the biggest race of his life.
McAnally was left searching for a replacement rider on short notice, and while he had plenty of options, he ultimately assigned the mount to Julie Krone, another Hall of Fame inductee who was on the comeback trail after taking two years off from riding.
“Julie is as good a rider as there is in California right now,” explained McAnally in the Aug. 21, 2003 edition of the Oceanside, Calif. North County Times. “We could have had any number of riders, but we’ve had a lot of luck with Julie …”
Before the Pacific Classic, Krone received thoughtful advice and insights from Stevens regarding the best way to ride Candy Ride.
“He said you’ll never get on a horse like this. This horse is so push-button,” Krone revealed in the North County Times. “He said take it to Medaglia d’Oro and they won’t know what happened turning for home.”
Krone followed Stevens’ advice to the letter. On a sunny day at Del Mar, 30,458 racing fans turned out to witness the showdown in the 2003 Pacific Classic. When the starting gates opened, Candy Ride came out a bit awkwardly, but as the field came past the stands for the first time, Krone allowed Candy Ride to race up alongside the pace-setting Medaglia d’Oro, pushing the favorite through an opening quarter mile in :23.40.
Medaglia d’Oro, with Jerry Bailey in the saddle, continued to lead into the first turn and down the backstretch, but Candy Ride was always a menacing presence, looming just off the pace through increasingly testing fractions of :46.82 and 1:10.95.
Finally, the two favorites hooked up on the final turn. Candy Ride threw down the gauntlet, reaching even terms with Medaglia d’Oro through a stiff mile in 1:34.78. By running the fourth quarter in :23.83, Candy Ride issued a challenge his rival couldn’t match.
“When [Candy Ride] went by, I knew I was cooked because Julie still had a ton of horse and my horse was giving all he was worth,” Bailey said in the the Courier-Journal.
Through the Del Mar stretch, Krone asked Candy Ride for his best, and the son of Ride the Rails gradually forged clear of Medaglia d’Oro. One length, two lengths, and finally 3 ¼ lengths separated the two runners at the finish line, with Candy Ride flying home in the track-record time of 1:59.11.
Candy Ride’s performance was widely applauded by horseman and handicappers alike.
“This is a phenomenal horse,” marveled McAnally in the Courier-Journal. “He’s as good as any horse I’ve ever trained.”
“How good of a horse is he? Wow! That’s how good a horse he is,” said Julie Krone, who made history as the first female jockey to win a $1 million race. “Amazing. He’s a rocket ship.”
“I love his action,” added McAnally. “He has such a long, fluid stride.”
The team generating the ever-popular Beyer Speed Figures agreed, assigning Candy Ride an impressive figure of 123, the highest number of 2003 and one of the fastest figures posted by any horse since the figures were introduced to the Daily Racing Form in 1992.
Sadly, the Pacific Classic marked Candy Ride’s last hurrah as a racehorse. Little issues prevented him from running again, and his retirement was announced in August 2004. Racing’s loss was breeding’s gain, since Candy Ride proved to be a phenomenal success at stud, leading all stallions in North America by 2017 progeny earnings.
But sometimes you have to think back and wonder “what might have been.” Sixteen years later, Candy Ride’s track record still stands, an unmatched testament to his speed, stamina, and talent.
And what of McAnally’s insightful proclamation — eight months before the great race unfolded — that Candy Ride would win the Pacific Classic? He casually shrugged it off in the North County Times of Aug. 27, 2003:
“I’m glad I didn’t have to eat my words.”