When he broke his maiden in January 2005 at Santa Anita Park in his second career start, Thor’s Echo had the look of a very nice 3-year-old. He won the six-furlong maiden special weight event by four lengths in 1:09.50 and set course on a “Derby” campaign through the Southwest and Midwest.
Thor’s Echo, a California-bred by Swiss Yodeler —Helen of Troy, by Mr. Integrity, fared well at 1 1/16 miles and 1 1/8 miles. He finished second in the Borderland Derby, won the WinStar Derby, finished fifth in the Walmac Lone Star Derby (gr. III), finished third in the Iowa Derby, and third in the Indiana Derby (gr. II). Still, his strongest effort in the spring and summer may have come in the seven-furlong Real Good Deal Stakes, which he won impressively in 1:22.09 at Del Mar.
Third-place finishes in two Santa Anita Park stakes—the California Cup Sprint Handicap at six furlongs and the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) at seven furlongs—at the end of 2005 sealed the deal for Thor’s Echo. He would be pointed toward a sprint campaign for 2006, and the results of that 4-year-old season stamped him the favorite for the Eclipse Award for top sprinter.
Thor’s Echo was purchased for $250,000 by Pablo Suarez and Royce Jaime from Block-Forman Stable, David Berlin, and Carl Smith, the gelding’s owners and breeders, after his maiden victory. In 2005, he banked more than $250,000 for his new owners and trainer Doug O’Neill, who set their sights on a schedule that would have Thor’s Echo race against top-level sprinters.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned.
Thor’s Echo began his championship season in January with a fourth-place finish in the Sunshine Millions Padua Stables Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream Park, then was shipped back to his home base in Southern California, where he finished second to Proud Tower Too in the Sensational Star Handicap in February at Santa Anita Park. His connections then took a shot in the $2-million Gulf News Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I), in which Thor’s Echo again finished second to fellow Californian Proud Tower Too in the about six-furlong event in late March.
O’Neill decided to give Thor’s Echo some time off after the long journey to the United Arab Emirates. Thor’s Echo wouldn’t race again for almost five months. “None of us are brain surgeons, but we did a lot of great strategizing getting him back to the races,” O’Neill told The Blood-Horse.
Indeed, time was running out. Thor’s Echo returned in the Green Flash Handicap, a five-furlong turf event at Del Mar in mid-August and checked in fourth. Almost two months later, he finished second to Bordonaro in the Ancient Title Breeders’ Cup Stakes (gr. I), the final California prep for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I). O’Neill said he entered Thor’s Echo in the Ancient Title as an afterthought. It was on to Churchill Downs.
Thor’s Echo entered the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Sprint not having won in his last eight starts. He was dismissed the seventh choice in a 14-horse field, but won by four lengths over longshots Friendly Island and Nightmare Affair. The gelding’s owners more than got back their $250,000 investment from the year before, so the $1.15-million first-place check was gravy.
Thor’s Echo became the eighth horse to win the Sprint off a previous start in California; the others are Precisionist, Thirty Slews, Cardmania, Desert Stormer, Lit de Justice, Elmhurst, and Kona Gold.
As for a championship, the 2006 Sprint winner figured to have an edge given the fact there were no dominant sprinters all season. That edge, however, turned into a strong advantage when Thor’s Echo returned three weeks later to take the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Stakes (gr. I) at Laurel Park in his final start of the year.
“In our minds, he deserves to be the sprint champion, and I think he’s in a much better position to make that claim now that he has won this race,” O’Neill said after the Laurel victory.
For 2006, Thor’s Echo had two wins and three seconds in seven starts for earnings of $1,838,937. Thor’s Echo had caught the eye of Sheikh Rashid, the oldest son of Darley and Godolphin owner Sheikh Mohammed who purchased the gelding late last year with plans to begin his campaign in Dubai this year. Thor’s Echo could return in the Golden Shaheen in late March.
Suarez said selling Thor’s Echo was a tough decision but the right thing to do.
(Article appears in the January 27, 2007 issue of The Blood-Horse)