Crown of Thorns returned to the winner's circle for the first time since February 2008 when he outlasted prohibitive favorite Sidney's Candy by 1 1/4 lengths in the $147,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park May 7.
The race was the first of the year for the grade I winner Sidney's Candy, who led his three rivals to deep stretch in the 1 1/16-mile Mervyn LeRoy but gave way to Crown of Thorns, who was ridden to victory by Tyler Baze. The winning time was 1:42.73 over Hollywood's Cushion Track.
"It's nice to be in the winner's circle in a graded stakes again," said Baze, who was out of action from July 24 until late last month after suffering a serious facial injury in a pre-race mishap at Del Mar. "I was letting my horse run out of the gate, just to make sure he goes. As long as he got in the clear I was able to push him along and go as fast as I wanted him to go. I thought we had a heck of a shot to win."
Spendthrift Farm's Crown of Thorns, now 6, won for the first time since taking the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) as a 3-year-old Feb. 2, 2008 at Santa Anita.
The lightly-raced son of Repent had lost six consecutive races since for trainer Richard Mandella, though he had four seconds and a third in that span. Those efforts included four successive runner-up finishes in grade I races -- the Ancient Title Stakes and Breeders' Cup Sprint in 2009, and the Pat O'Brien and Goodwood stakes last year. However, Crown of Thorns came into the Mervyn LeRoy off a seventh-place showing as the favorite in the 6 1/2-furlong Potrero Grande Stakes (gr. II) April 3 at Santa Anita.
Clover Leaf Farms bred Crown of Thorns in Florida. The bay horse is out of the Thunder Gulch mare Crowning Touch.
"It was pretty much as you would have figured it on paper," said Mandella, who tied Bobby Frankel for the most wins in the Mervyn LeRoy with four. "(Sidney's Candy) looked like he'd be on an easy lead unless somebody teased him a little bit. That's kind of what we had in mind. So he wouldn't think he was out there by himself, is all.
"I've always loved this horse. He's a very good horse, just a little accident prone. We've always thought he'd be better going long. He's fast enough to sprint and he can run on turf or anything we want, but I think two turns is better for him. He's really good right now."
Sidney's Candy, the 123-pound high weight ridden for the first time by Alonso Quinonez, grabbed the early lead and set a reasonable pace with Crown of Thorns pulling early before settling into a stalking position second. Fractions were :24.05, :47.22, and 1:11.02 with Sidney's Candy maintaining about a one-length advantage.
Crown of Thorns, carrying 119 pounds, was floated out in the stretch by Sidney's Candy, who began to tire in the final furlong. But Crown of Thorns gained the lead under urging from Baze and edged away in the final strides.
"He tried hard but I think the turf course is really better for him," Quinonez said of the runner-up. "The last part he got tired a little bit."
Spurrier, rallying at the rail for Chantal Sutherland, was a half-length back in third. Honour the Deputy trailed in a field reduced by the scratch of Coffee Boy.
Crown of Thorns improved his career mark to 3-4-1 in 10 starts with earnings of $777,080. He paid $7.40 and $2.60. Jenny Craig's homebred Sidney's Candy, off since winning the off-the-turf Sir Beaufort Stakes (gr. III) for trainer John Sadler Dec. 26 at Santa Anita, returned $2.10. The exacta was worth $15.20. There was no show wagering.