Zayat Stables’ Thorn Song continued his excellent record on the turf when he got up in the final strides to take the $200,000 River City Handicap (gr.IIIT) by a half-length (VIDEO) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 23.
Coming off narrow second-place finishes in the Oct. 28 Knickerbocker Handicap (gr. IIIT) and a Sept. 21 allowance race, the 4-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song rolled to his fourth career win. Thorn Song showed his affinity over the turf, as he has never been worse than second in six tries over grass.
The victory was a sweet one for trainer Dale Romans, who got his first River City win, and was the first graded win for Thorn Song. It was also a third win on the card for jockey Kent Desormeaux.
Getting a clean break under Desormeaux, Thorn Song settled just off the pace in second as jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. allowed Ra Der Dean to take the early lead. They went through an opening quarter-mile in :24.75 with Cosmonaut running third and Bill Mott trainee Gun Salute rating fourth.
Heading off the clubhouse turn, Cosmonaut moved up to take the lead and Ra Der Dean dropped back to third, while Gun Salute and Thorn Song maintained their positions through a half-mile in :50.05. Heading into the final turn, it was Cosmonaut, Thorn Song, Gun Salute, and Skipped Bail through three-quarters in 1:14.61. Heading off the turn, Cosmonaut held a narrow advantage on the inside, but Thorn Song drew clear under energetic handling to win in a final time of 1:51.37 for 1 1/8 miles. Gun Salute got up to third, while Barastraight made a late run for fourth.
"This horse is a grinder," Desormeaux said. "A slow, deep tasking turf is good for him. The race really set up well for him with the most probable horse to beat (Cosmonaut) leading me to the eighth pole. That's what I was begging to happen. This horse enjoys a target."
Sent off at odds of 7-1, Thorn Song returned $16.80, $6.60, and $4.20. Cosmonaut, the even-money favorite, brought $3 and $2.40 to under Edgar Prado. Gun Salute and Cornelio Velasquez paid $3.60 to show.
"He has really turned around (since we put him on the grass)," Romans said. "He always trained like a good horse and he was disappointing us in his races on the dirt. When we switched him over to the grass, he just became a different horse. I know he is tough and he has a lot of stamina.
"When he got to him and got a head in front, I didn't think there was any way (Cosmonaut) could get back in front of him."
Bred in Kentucky by Pinnacle Racing and Taylor Made Farm, Thorn Song is out of the Storm Bird mare Festal. He was a $200,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training. He now has a career record of 4-4-2 and earnings of $312,110.