03/01/2007 12:00AM

Best sprinters share common roots


Here is what California-bred sprinters must do in 2007 to match their accomplishments of 2006: Win everything.

From Dubai to Kentucky, with stops in Arkansas, Maryland, and California, horses bred in California conquered many of the world's leading dirt sprints in 2006.

Proud Tower Too won the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai in March, outrunning two other California-breds - Thor's Echo and Jet West, who finished second and third. The race was essentially a 70-second infomercial for Cal-breds.

Not to be outdone, Thor's Echo later clinched the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding sprinter with wins in two major stakes in November - the $2 million Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs and the Grade 1 Frank De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park in Maryland.

Thor's Echo, Proud Tower Too, and Jet West are back for another year. Throw in the presence of Bordonaro, who won graded stakes in Arkansas and California last year, the consistent Areyoutalkintome, and the recent comeback of 2005 Grade 1 stakes winner Greg's Gold, and California-bred sprinters could have another banner year in 2007.

California is known as the home of ultra-tough sprinters, but never have so many statebreds been so effective at the highest level.

"We have fast horses," said Bill Spawr, who trains Bordonaro. "They can go anyplace."

There have certainly been plenty of top-class California-bred sprinters over the years. In the last 15 years, the top California-bred sprinters have included the mare Soviet Problem, who finished a game second in the 1994 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs, and the massive gelding Big Jag, who won major stakes in California and Dubai and was third in the 1999 BC Sprint at Gulfstream Park.

Thor's Echo, however, was the first to be honored with the Eclipse Award for sprinters.

"I think the best sprinters are from California," said Sal Gonzalez, the trainer of Proud Tower Too. "I think we breed a lot of speed horses. We breed for speed more than any other state, like Kentucky, New York, and Florida."

The depth of the California-bred sprint division will be better known over the next several weeks, when several leading runners are scheduled to make starts.

On March 31, Thor's Echo, who was acquired over the winter by the Maktoum family, and Proud Tower Too are both bound for the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai. Thor's Echo made his first start for his new owners in Dubai on Thursday, finishing sixth.

Proud Tower Too lost his first three starts of this year - he finished third in the Grade 3 El Conejo and second in the Sunshine Millions Sprint and Grade 2 San Carlos - his only races since the 2006 Golden Shaheen. He was turned out last summer because of an ankle injury.

Despite the losses, Gonzalez said he thinks that Proud Tower Too, 5, can repeat in Dubai later this month.

"He's done more than I expected him to do, even though he's young and he's lightly raced," Gonzalez said. "Some people are interested in standing him in places like Kentucky, Florida, or California, but we want to race him another year after this year. There's a possibility that he could run at 6."

Proud Tower Too was bred by Daniel Cardenas's Tricar Stable, a match of the modest stallion Proud Irish and the stakes-producing mare Dora's Tower. That Proud Tower Too has developed into a millionaire has not surprised Gonzalez.

"I was very delighted to accomplish what I did last year," Gonzalez said. "From the first breeze with company when he was a 2-year-old, he just stood out and dominated. It was a matter of him putting it together. I've been blessed with a good horse. I think he has competitive spirit, he's very aggressive, and he's just a racehorse."

Bordonaro and Greg's Gold could meet in the $200,000 Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap over 6 1/2 furlongs on April 7. Or Bordonaro could instead run in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 13, a race he won last year.

"Our goal is the Breeders' Cup," Spawr said. "I can't say how we'll get there."

Jet West will not start for several months. Owned by Bruce Hochman, Jet West is in light training after a severe bout with colic last fall just before a scheduled start in the California Cup Sprint.

"He came about as close to dying of colic as any horse I've had," trainer Ted West said. "It will be a long road back."

Jet West earned $200,000 for the third-place finish in Dubai, but losing to two other California-breds still leaves the trainer shaking his head.

"In all the world, the top three sprinters are California-breds," West said. "That's more than just an anomaly."