`Thor' has super finish in Dash

Breeders' Cup winner earns 2nd Grade I sprint title

Laurel card draws record handle

Horse racing

November 26, 2006|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun reporter

A super day of racing at Laurel Park came to a conclusion yesterday when jockey Corey Nakatani slid from the top of his horse in the winner's circle after the 17th running of the Grade I, $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Dash.

Wearing a "Superman" S on the front of his silks, Nakatani was asked if he felt like the caped hero.

"Like Superman?" he said. "I don't know if I feel like Superman, but the horse certainly did."

The horse, Thor's Echo, survived a blistering early pace, overtook eventual fourth-place finisher Crafty Schemer down the stretch and held off a strong drive by Diabolical to win by three-fourths of a length in the six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up.

Thor's Echo paid $4.20, $2.80 and $2.40 after completing the race in 1:08.71.

The De Francis is one of just five graded six-furlong stakes for sprinters in the country and when Thor's Echo won it, he improved his case for this year's Eclipse Award.

The 4-year-old gelded son of Swiss Yodeler has won two Grade I sprints, including an upset victory in the Breeders' Cup Sprint three weeks ago, and finished second in two others.

"I wouldn't say we've clinched [the award]," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "But we think he deserves to be in the final three. ... 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's won this race."

Nakatani said his horse turned in an amazing performance. Breaking from the outside post in the nine-horse field, Thor's Echo positioned himself in fourth behind Crafty Schemer, Coppertone Kid and Attila's Storm, who covered the first quarter-mile in a blazing 21.96 seconds.

Going around the turn, Thor's Echo was "losing his footing in the real deep dirt," Nakatani said. "It took a tremendous effort for him to go around the outside and keep going with such determination. Then the [No. 1] horse [Diabolical] was coming at me through the lane and he just dug in some more. ... Just a tremendous effort.

"He has to win the Eclipse. Obviously, those are good horses we beat, and anytime you have to dig down deep to win like this, after coming off the Breeders' Cup win and the short rest ... he showed he has the heart of a champion."

The Dash was the last race on Laurel's 10-race card yesterday that included eight stakes races. A crowd of 12,408 saw the action live, with a record $5,518,830 bet locally and nationally, blowing away the previous De Francis Dash Day betting record of $4,748,711 set last year.

Every race had its own exhilarating story, starting with Street Sounds' victory for trainer Michael Matz in the 80th running of the $125,000 Selima Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.

The Stefanita Stakes featured a neck- and-neck duel won by Plata, a 5-year-old mare by Skip Away, trained by Katharine Voss and ridden by Ryan Fogelsonger, while Art Fan won the April Run Stakes for fillies and mares 3 years old and up.

The $125,000 Laurel Futurity for 2-year-olds, won by Barbaro last year, was taken by Strike A Deal, who overcame a commanding lead by Rutledge Cat at the top of the stretch.

"When I was a kid, my dad was a $2 bettor," assistant trainer Jim Maloney said. "I know about the Laurel Futurity. Back when it was on dirt, it was the race in the fall. The year I graduated from high school Secretariat won it. Last year Barbaro put his stamp on it. And I think it's as good as any race on the East Coast. It's a thrill to win."

The $125,000 Anne Arundel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies went to Leah's Secret, in another duel to the wire. Leah's Secret was surrounded in the winner's circle by her six owners and their families, who had never seen her run. After the photos were taken the whole group took turns petting the horse, who stood quietly throughout.

It might have been the most amazing thing Leah's Secret did all day.

"Not many horses would do what she just did," trainer Helen Pitts said.

And Fishy Advice won the $100,000 Laurel Turf Cup, driving to overtake My Dream and win by a head.

"We're going to feed him a crab cake as a treat for winning in Maryland," said Theresa Behrendt, who lives in New York with her husband John, who owns the horse with three partners.


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