ARCADIA, Calif. -- His trainer describes him as "the best horse in the country." The jockey calls him "unbelievable."
Those accolades aside, this much is certain: Twirling Candy scored an easy win in Saturday's $200,000 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds at Santa Anita. Twirling Candy won the Grade 2 race by 4 1/2 lengths over Tweebster, a margin that could have been much greater if jockey Joel Rosario had urged the colt at all in the final furlong.
The win gave Rosario and trainer John Sadler a sweep of the day's biggest races. They won the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes earlier in the day with Zazu.
Twirling Candy ($3) was timed in 1:46.53, winning the fourth stakes of his career and second at the meeting. He won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes over seven furlongs on Dec. 26 in 1:19.70, breaking Spectacular Bid's 1980 track record of 1:20.
There were no records broken in the Strub, just confirmation that Twirling Candy will be the favorite for the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 5, the championship race of the meeting for older horses.
His win in the Strub Stakes makes that a foregone conclusion.
Rosario had Twirling Candy near the front throughout, stalking pacesetter Indian Firewater through an early pace of 23.44 and 46.53 seconds. Twirling Candy was within a half-length of Indian Firewater after six furlongs in 1:09.95 and took the lead with little effort on the turn.
"I followed that horse on the lead," Rosario said.
He said Twirling Candy tugged his way to the front in the final quarter-mile.
"He took me there," Rosario said. "I did what he wanted to do. He was unbelievable."
Twirling Candy led by 2 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole and was hand-ridden to the finish.
Tweebster, second to Indian Firewater in the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes on Jan. 15, finished second, 2 1/2 lengths in front of 27-1 outsider Make Music for Me in the field of seven.
Jockey Rafael Bejarano rode Tweebster and thought for a moment he had a chance to win in the stretch. He admitted it was a very brief thought.
"The winner made a run at the half-mile pole and he took off," Bejarano said. "We made a move in the stretch and were starting to close, and the winner took off again."
Twirling Candy, by Candy Ride, has won 6 of 7 starts and $579,900 for owner-breeder Jenny Craig. Twirling Candy won the Oceanside Stakes and Grade 2 Del Mar Derby on turf last summer before losing for the first time in his fifth career start, a fourth-place finish against older horses in the Grade 1 Goodwood Stakes at Hollywood Park in October.
"I really feel this is the best horse in the country," Sadler said. "I feel a strong sense of stewardship. I don't want to make any mistakes; he's that good."