Why Chocolate Candy Won't Win the Belmont Stakes

Duane WinnCorrespondent IJune 1, 2009

ELMONT, NY - JUNE 07:  Big Brown (R) ridden by jockey Kent Desormeaux and the field come out of the gate to start the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 7, 2008 in Elmont, New York.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

There are bound to be plenty of people who will be sweet on Chocolate Candy's prospects for victory in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

This craving could cost bettors a few "empty calories."

Like Mine That Bird, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and runner-up in the Preakness, Chocolate Candy has hit the board in seven of 10 races. He owns victories in the Real Quiet Stakes last November, the California Derby in January and the Grade Three El Camino Real Derby one month later.

Chocolate Candy also has posted a second and a third in a pair of Grade One stakes both won by Pioneer of the Nile, who finished a well-beaten second in the Kentucky Derby.

So what's not to like about this smooth runner?

For one thing, Chocolate Candy has raced all but one of his races on synthetic surfaces in California. His only race on the dirt, in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, was maddeningly inconclusive. He was squeezed at the start, 17th in the field at one point, but rallied for a respectable fifth in the slop.

So, the jury is still out whether Chocolate Candy is merely a synthetic specialist or a horse who can adopt to the dirt confection of Belmont Park.

Let's not forget that Mine That Bird won four of six races on the synthetic surface in Canada, then lost two dirt races before he surprised the racing world in the Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is taking every precaution to see that Chocolate Candy gets his fill of "The Big Sandy" before race day. The son of Candy Ride has put in a series of brisk workouts at Belmont Park over the past three weeks that has his connections raving about his chances.

The trend coming off of the synthetic tracks—as far as what we believe in California—is that we think our horses move up a little bit on the dirt, and they seem to handle it well,” Hollendorfer told Bloodhorse.com.

Yet, on his best day, Chocolate Candy seems to be a cut below the top horses. He's good enough to finish in the money in big races but not brilliant enough to be a champion.

None of the horses that Chocolate Candy conquered in the California Derby or the El Camino Real has emerged as a Grade One stakes winner. Which makes one wonder if Chocolate Candy was merely the best of a mediocre lot.

Chocolate Candy's best Beyer Speed Rating is a 94 for 1 1/8 miles or longer. This places him near the back of the pack with Miner's Escape, Miner's Escape, Luv Gov and Brave Victory, other probable entrants in Saturday's race.

All that said, Chocolate Candy always seems to give his best effort. In the eight races between his desultory debut in which he finished sixth and his most recent race in the Kentucky Derby, Chocolate Candy never finished farther back than three lengths off the lead in any of the races which he didn't win. 

That's because Hollendorfer, Chocolate Candy's trainer, is much more than just a competent horseman.

Hollendorfer is the king of Northern California, having won 32 consecutive trainer's titles at Golden Gates Field and 37 consecutive titles at Bay Meadows.

Just this year alone, Hollendorfer has saddled 113 winners in 520 starts (21 percent), with an uncanny in-the-money-percentage of 56 percent. During his career, Hollendorfer's horses have won more than 5,000 races and $100 million.

Yet, the big horse has always eluded him.

Although he's saddled numerous graded stakes victors, Hollendorfer is  0-for 4 in the Kentucky Derby and his only Belmont starter, Globalize, finished 10th in the 2000 Belmont Stakes.

Garrett Gomez will be aboard Chocolate Candy for the first time since he rode him to victory in the Real Quiet.

Since 2006, Gomez has won such notable races as the Wood Memorial, the Haskell Invitational, the Travers Stakes and the Kentucky Oaks, as well as eight Breeders' Cup victories.