IT'S TOO SOON TO CROWN CANDY RIDE HANDICAP KING

Sep 9, 2003 12:14 AM

Candy Ride was the 7-2 favorite over 21 other horses in phase two of the Breeders' Cup Classic future bet that closed at midnight on Labor Day.

   The price might seem generous, but upon further review, value on the undefeated winner of the Pacific Classic could be deflated, despite his impressive victory over a previous handicap leader, Medaglia d'Oro.

   "Don't throw out Medaglia d'Oro," trainer Ron Ellis cautioned, and with a perceptive reason. "I think it's a little soon to make Candy Ride the king. Medaglia d'Oro had to ship from Saratoga to Del Mar for the Pacific Classic and that's a very tough ship because there's not really a direct way to go. There's a lot of vanning involved. That's how Cigar got beat (in the 1996 Pacific Classic). I wouldn't give up on Medaglia d'Oro yet. He kind of took the worst of it having to ship across country."

   With the 20th Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita on Oct. 25 less than two months away, the $4 million Classic at 1 1 /4 miles could be the most contentious ever, if the horses remain healthy.

    "Congaree is still a very talented horse and what about Mineshaft?," Ellis said. "I hope all the horses hold together so it will be an awesome Breeders' Cup."

   Oak Tree Racing Association, which hosts the Breeders' Cup, is putting its best foot forward for the 32-day meeting that begins on Sept. 28 and ends on Nov. 9. Ellis expects nothing less.

    "I think the track will play like it always does," the 43-year-old California native said. "It seems like the same track to me and I don't think it will be any different (when the meet starts). It's in good shape and horses have done well here this summer. We'll have good weather and I think the track will play fair."

   One horse that won't make the Breeders' Cup Classic is the Ellis-trained 3-year-old Atswhatimtalknbout, who finished an eventful fourth in the Kentucky Derby behind Funny Cide, Empire Maker and Peace Rules. The $900,000 son of 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy presently is at the Arcadia track preparing for a winter campaign.

   "He's been jogging a couple miles a day, but he's ready to start galloping anytime now," Ellis said. "I'm not planning to run him until some time in December, whether it's in the Malibu or a race at Hollywood I haven't decided yet. It depends on how he comes around. Basically we're pointing to the Strub series, the San Fernando, the Strub and the Santa Anita Handicap."

   Ellis, one of the more patient trainers on the circuit, admits now he had to hurry Atswhatimtalknbout to make the Run for the Roses last May 1.

   "He got rushed along pretty good and he handled it well," Ellis said. "The Derby was his sixth race in five months, but he suffered a quarter crack training up to the Belmont, so this was a good opportunity to give him some time off. We made sure the quarter crack grew in well. I had him jogging two miles a day towards his comeback earlier when he got a little virus for about two weeks. It was going through the barn with my young horses, but he's over it and looks great.

   "In retrospect, I'm hoping the quarter crack was a blessing in disguise in that it gave him some time off, because I've always believed he was going to be a lot better older horse than he was a 3-year-old."

   Ellis thinks this is a bumper crop of 3-year-olds, especially the first four finishers in the Derby.

    "The horses that ran in the Derby were the horses," Ellis said. "Funny Cide is awesome. He just hasn't held his form after the Triple Crown races, but who could expect it after what he did? Empire Maker (winner of the Belmont) has done everything right. Peace Rules  has proved himself. When Empire Maker's not there, then Ten Most Wanted goes to the fore (winning the Travers). They're the dominant ones. Their performances are a really good sign for Atswhatimtalknbout. I think we're a better horse than Ten Most Wanted. We could have beat Empire Maker in the Derby with a little racing luck.

   "I was just glad to see that bunch hold their form going against the 3-year-olds that didn't run in the Derby, like Dynever. He was thought to be something special but it turned out he wasn't able to compete (with them).

   "But the 3-year-old crop this year, going into the Derby, if you look at numbers and Sheets and that kind of stuff, looked like an extremely solid group. I think the ones that ran in the Derby were extremely strong and they're still holding their form."

   THE HOMESTRETCH: Bobby Frankel said that Zenda, a Group 1 winner in Europe and a candidate for this year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, has been retired, so don't waste any money on her in the Future Book betting.