Willie Shoemaker had been brooding for two weeks about his loss aboard the large California chestnut, Candy Spots. “The Shoe” and owner Rex Ellsworth’s irregularly marked three-year-old had come into the Kentucky Derby with an unbeaten record. There had been six races and six wins in Candy Spots’ past. And the colt and Shoemaker were made the 7-5 favorite in the 1963 Kentucky Derby.
But as things are wont to do in thoroughbred racing, all did not go well for the Californians in The Derby.
Though both Candy Spots and No Robbery had joined the other seven thoroughbreds for that year’s Run for the Roses, it was the 9-1 Chateaugay that had thrilled the longshot bettors when he won the day.
Now it was the day of the Preakness Stakes, the $180,000 middle leg of the Triple Crown series. And jockey Shoemaker was astride a conundrum that had him wobbly in the saddle. Should he contest the early lead sure to be shown by Never Bend? Or should he follow the same path that had led to three straight wins when Candy Spots was two and three more wins preceding the Kentucky Derby?
Just escaping unscathed through his two-year-old campaign had not been easy. In the Santa Anita Derby, there had been a horrific four-horse spill that involved Candy Spots to some extent but saw him stay upright and then go on to win by more than a length.
Racing outside California for the first time brought a confidence-building success in the Florida Derby.
And then came three wins in 1963 that had Candy Spots the owner of a six-race win streak and unbeaten record coming through to the aromatic, flowery smells on Kentucky Derby Saturday.
Candy Spots was an elongated chestnut with the seldom-seen markings of white and even black splotches on his rump and flank. He was 16.2 hands tall. And he had a phenomenal stride of 28-feet. “Shoe” knew full well he was not a front-runner . . . but could he let the pace setters get too far in front like they had done in The Derby?
Shoemaker was not sure. Owner Ellsworth and trainer Mesh Tenney had also been unnerved by the way the Kentucky Derby had unfolded. The threesome had been sure they had the best horse. But the results showed them once again that the best horse doesn’t always win.
After hashing (and thrashing) through their ideas of how the Preakness should be run, it was decided to do what had been successful in Candy Spots’ first six races — all wins. “The Shoe” would try to move quickly from the starting gate, but then have his big rawboned runner settle into a smooth and comfortable stride . . . and then come running like gangbusters at the end of the Pimlico stretch.
After the final yards of the Preakness had been negotiated with Candy Spots in front, Shoemaker’s furrowed frown had been changed to his much-photographed toothy smile.
As he was led to the infield winner’s circle, Shoemaker relaxed in vindication. Even after the defeat in the Kentucky Derby, Candy Spots had been made the 3-2 favorite for the Preakness and its eight-horse field. And even with a third-place finish in Kentucky, Candy Spots’ just-finished win was something of a vindication for all of California racing.
“I didn’t worry about Never Bend,” Shoemaker would tell the throng in the grassy winner’s circle. “I knew Chateaugay was the one to beat.”
After they had submerged the front-running Never Bend, Candy Spots and Shoemaker stayed clear of the stretch-running Kentucky Derby champion. Said Shoemaker of his inclination to not only show his horse his whip but to also use it, “My horse was inclined to loaf.”
Owner Ellsworth was the country’s leading trainer in 1963 for the second straight year.
Ellsworth’s strapping chestnut had been able to dwell in the middle of the eight-horse field without much danger of being fenced in and not finding the needed elbow room to get loose when the time came.
Candy Spots had the most withering explosion of speed in the stretch that Preakness Day in ‘63.
The white patches and the black spots on his rump were not hard to find that afternoon. He was in front. And he would stay right there.
Candy Spots would win the New Jersey Derby on the last Saturday in May before becoming the only California-bred to ever finish in the top three in all the Triple Crown races. Running for the fourth time in six weeks, Candy Spots was second in the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel in the Triple Crown series. Chateaugay had won again in the longer Belmont Stakes.
Snow Chief in 1986 became the only California thoroughbred since Candy Spots to win any Triple Crown race when he took the Preakness.
Before his career was finished, Candy Spots had run 22 times with five firsts and $824,718 in earnings. His later wins included successes in the American Derby, Arlington Classic, and San Pasqual Handicap.
While winning a “classic” in the three-year-old Triple Crown series is a plum chased after by owners everywhere across the globe, Ellsworth’s Preakness Stakes victory in 1963 was a jewel in itself . . . but it wasn’t what people remembered about his long-striding chestnut. Instead, they remembered the white blotches and the few black markings he had on his body. The public could easily recognize him by sight . . . while the record books remember him for his get-up-and-go stretch run at Pimlico. That was the day he made “The Shoe” smile.