2010: Twirling Candy Breaks a Barrier
It comes toward the end of the calendar year, but the Malibu Stakes stands out because it is the final Grade I event of the season. Winning it means ending a campaign on a high note while building momentum for the incoming one.
This scenario has played out before, with Precisionist (1984), Ferdinand (1986), Rock Hard Ten (2004), and McKinzie (2018) going on to win more graded races after winning the Malibu at three. And since its inception in 1952, the Malibu has become one of the most prestigious races Southern California racing has to offer.
Of course, this was not any different for the 2010 renewal. But for one specific reason, that race ranks among the most historic in the event's long history.
On December 26, 2010, the tens of thousands of fans who were on hand for Santa Anita's opening day witnessed something never before seen at the legendary track.
A total of eleven horses lined up in the starting gate for the Malibu that day. Among the principals were the favored Noble's Promise, a graded stakes placed horse who had been fifth in the 2010 Kentucky Derby and more recently a winner of a listed stakes at Churchill Downs; second choice Twirling Candy, who captured the Oceanside Stakes and Grade II Del Mar Derby that summer; Alcindor, who was in the midst of a two-race winning streak; and Smiling Tiger, a successful sprinter who won the Grade I Bing Crosby and Ancient Title Stakes earlier in the year.
Going by the wagering, the Malibu was wide open, and the winner of it would have a major prize to close out 2010 while using it as a stepping stone to a potentially big 2011 season.
Scheduled as the eighth race on the opening day card, the Malibu saw a good beginning, with only the rail horse, Paris Vegas, leaving the gate slowly but still recovering soon after. Smiling Tiger and Russell Baze, who started from the eleventh post, wasted no time going to the front. They were joined by Alcindor and Rafael Bejarano, who began in the two hole. Alcindor nabbed a slight lead, with Noble's Promise and Julien Leparoux not far behind in third. Twirling Candy, with Joel Rosario aboard, was on the outside of Noble's Promise in fourth, giving most of the main horses the top four spots early on.
The Malibu field was strung out after the first quarter-mile, which saw Alcindor credited with a time of 22.72. He did not let up at the half-mile mark, which was run in 44.69. Smiling Tiger stayed right with him around the far turn, and Noble's Promise and Twirling Candy went with them. The top four had some distance between themselves and the rest of the field as the Malibu neared the stretch run, but no one was sure as to who would win it all. The public had been right that the race would be wide open, with at least a quartet of horses still in the mix for the trophy.
Twirling Candy and Noble's Promise got closer to the leaders before passing the quarter pole. The former went to the outside turning for home and shook free of the latter. Up front, Smiling Tiger took the lead over Alcindor on the outside. Six furlongs were finished in a blistering 1:07.58. Twirling Candy was not giving up in his bid for victory, and soon it was down to him and Smiling Tiger as the raucous crowd watched from the grandstand and infield.
There were only seconds left. Smiling Tiger's lead eroded, but he was giving it everything he had. So was Smiling Tiger, who got the deficit down from a length to a neck in no time. Then they were even. Then they reached the wire in a fantastic conclusion to the main event of the afternoon. Both horses were worthy of victory, but there was no dead heat in the Malibu. They were separated by a nose, and Twirling Candy's nose was in front.
He gave longtime Southern California-based trainer John Sadler and Rosario their first Malibu victories, but the moment belonged to Twirling Candy, and not just because it was his first Grade I victory. Even before he took the lead, the Malibu had gone by fast. Twirling Candy only added to that, and by doing so put himself in California racing history.
Twirling Candy ran the Malibu in 1:19.70, and that gave him a new track record for seven furlongs. He bested the long-standing clocking of 1:20 flat by Spectacular Bid, who set that standard in the 1980 Malibu.
Not only did Twirling Candy top a time set by one of the sport's legends, he did something no horse had ever done at Santa Anita. Before that day, no seven furlong race at the iconic track had been run in under eighty seconds. Twirling Candy ventured into a realm untouched by any horse that had ever set foot at the Great Race Place, and for that reason alone, he occupies a unique place in the California racing timeline.
Since the 2010 Malibu, no horse has topped Twirling Candy's seven furlong record. It may be a long time, perhaps even thirty years, for his record to be lowered.
But no matter how long it stands, Twirling Candy will always be the first to topple the one minute and twenty second barrier at Santa Anita.