11/10/2006 12:00AM

Breeders who made most of season


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Steve Warner thought he had reached a milestone when two of the horses he bred in partnership started in Breeders' Cup races at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4: Thor's Echo in the $2 million Sprint and Dancing Edie in the $2 million Filly and Mare Turf.

"Just having Dancing Edie and Thor's Echo, it was unbelievable to be there to begin with," he said.

Then, Thor's Echo pulled an upset in the Sprint, and Warner had arrived at the moment that defined his involvement in horse racing.

Warner, Carlton Block, Harry Forman, and Carl Smith are the breeders of Thor's Echo, who won his first stakes of the year in the Sprint, scoring an upset at 15-1.

"It's unbelievable that this could be happening to us," Warner said. "To see that, that's a thrill of a lifetime."

The breeding came about five years ago through a conversation that Warner had with trainers Mike and Patricia Harrington, who campaigned Thor's Echo's sire, Swiss Yodeler, in the late 1990's.

Smith, a groom for the Harringtons, had a breeding season to Swiss Yodeler, but did not own a mare. Smith had groomed Swiss Yodeler during his racing career and received the season from Heinz Steinmann, who owns Swiss Yodeler. When Warner heard that Smith was looking for a mare to breed to Swiss Yodeler, he and his partners suggested Helen of Troy.

"The resulting foal was Thor's Echo," Warner said.

The breeders campaigned Thor's Echo for his first few starts before he was sold privately to Pablo Suarez and Royce Jaime and turned over from Harrington to Doug O'Neill.

Warner, who breeds and races under Fast Lane Farms, and his partners covered Smith's expenses related to the breeding and later paid a portion of Thor's Echo earnings and sale price to Smith.

"It was a real good deal," Smith said.

Smith said he always keeps his season to Swiss Yodeler and does not sell the season. This year, he is thinking of breeding Swiss Yodeler to a filly owned by his brother.

"Mares are kind of expensive," he said.

In a state known for producing sprinters, Thor's Echo's win was a milestone. He was the first California-bred to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint and only the second to win any Breeders' Cup race. Tiznow won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in 2000 and at Belmont Park in 2001.

But the win was not a shock. Thor's Echo has tangled with the best sprinters in the world throughout the year, finishing second to Proud Tower Too in the $2 million Golden Shaheen Sprint in Dubai in March and second to fellow California-bred Bordonaro in the Grade 1 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Stakes at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting last month.

Helen of Troy is carrying a foal by Swiss Yodeler and is boarded at Old English Rancho in Sanger, Calif., Warner said. By Mr. Integrity, Helen of Troy did not race, but she is a half-sister to Smokin Charlotte, the winner of the 2002 Fran's Valentine Stakes who earned $183,941; and a full sister to Thunder's Echo, who earned $202,315.

Swiss Yodeler, 12, stands at Pepper Oaks Farm in Santa Ynez, Calif. Thor's Echo's victory has vaulted Swiss Yodeler to the top of the state's money-winning stallions, with progeny earnings of $4,172,912 through Thursday.

Swiss Yodeler was pre-entered for the 1997 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Hollywood Park but did not earn a berth into the field. For Smith, Thor's Echo's win was a consolation.

"I think he would have won, personally," he said of Swiss Yodeler's chances in the 1997 Sprint. "He's been good to me. He was a good racehorse."