Thor's Echo, who couldn't hold off Southern Africa when the two met the last time, turned the tables on his rival in the $500,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland Park Saturday.
The victory completed a sweet day in New Mexico for leading Southern California trainer Doug O'Neill and jockey Corey Nakatani. They teamed to win the $250,000 WinStar Sunland Park Oaks with Cee's Irish a race earlier.
"This has been a great team effort," O'Neill said. "I can't put into words how good it feels. I was real nervous going into the turn. Corey told me afterward he was confident the whole way."
Thor's Echo and Southern Africa, who was ridden by Jon Court in his pursuit for his 3,000th victory, battled virtually the entire way before the determined California-bred gelded son of Swiss Yodeler crept away close to the wire for a one-length victory. Southern Africa held second by a neck over Sort It Out, who came on strongly for third with Patrick Valenzuela aboard.
The final time for the 1 1/8-mile event was 1:49 2/5.
Thor's Echo, owned by Suarez Racing Stable and partners, was three lengths clear with a quarter mile to go as the favorite in the 1 1/16-mile Borderland Derby, Sunland's preview event for the WinStar Derby. But he could not hold off the Michael Puhich-trained Southern Africa, who prevailed by 1 1/4 lengths.
It looked like the result would be the same as the 8-5 favorite Southern Africa edged to the lead on the outside coming out of the turn for home. But Thor's Echo didn't cave in. Handled strongly in the stretch by Nakatani, he rallied back as the two raced as a team through the stretch to prevail.
Dover Dere finished fourth, followed by Tudor Needed, Quiet Money, Cajun Pepper and Riverman Jack.
Thor's Echo won $270,000 for his second victory in four starts. The chestnut, nominated for the Triple Crown, has earnings of $321,560.
He paid $6.40, $3 and $2.40. Southern Africa, who began his career in Great Britain and is also nominated to the Triple Crown, returned $2.80 and $2.20. Sort It Out, the Bob Baffert-trained entry making his first start since running eighth in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) showed for $2.40.