LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally will have a tough time holding it together if Sidney’s Candy ends up in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs.
The colt is named for the late husband of weight loss maven Jenny Craig, who plans to attend Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Sid Craig died of cancer nearly two years ago at age 76, but she stayed in the racing business to pursue their shared goal of winning this event.
“I told her I would cry if the horse won,” he said by phone from California. “They really deserve it.
“Of all the years I’ve been training horses, Jenny Craig and Sid were the classiest people I’ve ever been around,” McAnally said. “They’re the kind of people that have made it in life, but they also spend it.”
After leading all the way in three consecutive races on Santa Anita’s synthetic surface, Sidney’s Candy likely will be the second choice at 6-1 at Wednesday’s post-position draw.
Trainer Bob Baffert’s Lookin At Lucky is expected to be the 3-1 favorite for the 1 1/4-mile race, despite finishing third to Sidney’s Candy in the Santa Anita Derby, the worst showing of his career.
Baffert thinks that’s wrong — even though Sidney’s Candy has never run on dirt.
“Sidney’s Candy should be the favorite …” he said. “I’ve watched him work twice here and he looks phenomenal. He’ll run well.”
Southern California rival John Sadler was quick to return the compliment.
“I hit the ball right back over the net,” he said Tuesday. “He’s a more polished Derby trainer and he has the bigger resume.”
Besides Sidney’s Candy, he’ll saddle Line of David, who won the $1 million Arkansas Derby in his first race on dirt and owns a three-race winning streak.
Sidney’s Candy is the son of undefeated Argentine-bred Candy Ride, who was trained by McAnally and won the 2003 Pacific Classic on dirt for the Craigs.
The couple founded Jenny Craig Inc. in 1982 in Melbourne, Australia. Four years ago, they sold the Carlsbad, Calif.-based company to Nestle SA for $600 million.
Together they owned horses for 20 years before Sid’s death and tried to win the Derby a year ago with another son of Candy Ride, Chocolate Candy, who finished fifth in the Derby and ninth in the Belmont.
In 1992, Dr Devious, a $2.5 million birthday gift from Jenny to Sid, was seventh in the Derby under McAnally’s guidance.
Jenny Craig threw a black-tie birthday party for her husband after she bought Dr Devious, unveiling his present by showing a photo of the horse on a big screen.
“When Sid found out how much she paid, he called her a dumb broad,” McAnally recalled with a chuckle.
Dr Devious later won England’s Epsom Derby and after that, “Jenny said, `I went from being a dumb broad to being a genius in two minutes,'” McAnally said.
Sidney’s Candy has had three impressive workouts at Churchill Downs in his first foray on conventional dirt. Although he’s a front-runner, jockey Joe Talamo said the colt has a winning combination of stamina and ability to finish.
“He’s like a remote control. He’s a jockey’s dream,” he said. “You can set your hands down and he relaxes, you just move your hands and he takes off.”
Talamo has ridden Sidney’s Candy in all six of his starts. They were fourth in an allowance race at Santa Anita in December, when Sadler informed Talamo’s agent that he wasn’t sure his client could stay on the horse.
“He let us waffle for quite a while. He could’ve just as easily put someone else on at that point,” agent Scott McClellan said. “John is a great trainer, but he’s tough. You walk into the barn one day and the three you rode two weeks before, you might not be on any of those. He might offer you a really good one the next day.”
Talamo stayed put, and Sidney’s Candy began a three-race winning streak in February.
“He’s a really good kid,” Sadler said. “He has his head screwed on straight.”
Last year, Talamo’s first Derby ended in disappointment when his mount, I Want Revenge, went out with a leg injury and became the first morning-line favorite to be scratched the day of the race.
Sadler recently won his second straight training title at Santa Anita over Baffert, a Hall of Famer who has won three derbies. His only previous Derby horse was Corby, who finished sixth in 1993.
“It feels way different this time,” he said. “I’m a more mature trainer. I’m trying to enjoy the experience.”
McAnally, meanwhile, will be watching the race on TV, his thoughts dominated by the couple who trusted him with some of their best horses.
“Jenny said if Sidney’s Candy should happen to win with Sid not being there, he would have the best seat in the house,” he said.