04/28/2010 11:00PM

Mississippians look for mighty effort

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Barbara D. Livingston
Dawn and Ike Thrash face the press after Hurricane Ike's Derby Trial win. They have Line of David, a longshot, in the Kentucky Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Hattiesburg has never known anything quite like it, unless you count their favorite son playing in Super Bowls and such. So when Ike and Dawn Thrash and their ample brood from a southern Mississippi town of some 45,000 send out a colt named Line of David under their royal blue silks Saturday in the 136th Kentucky Derby, it will be a special day indeed.

"It's been something else around here," Ike Thrash said earlier this week from Hattiesburg, where a fellow named Brett Favre resides as a legend for the ages. "They don't know a lot about horse racing in Hattiesburg, and some people look at you like you're speaking Chinese. But they do know the Derby is a big deal."

A Derby berth for Line of David culminates nearly 30 years of owning horses for the Thrashes, who will celebrate accordingly. Their four grown children and eight grandchildren all have traveled to Louisville for what they hope will be a life-altering experience.

"We think he'll run well and hope that he does," said Thrash, 57.

Line of David was sired by Lion Heart, the 2004 Kentucky Derby runner-up to Smarty Jones. The colt started his career inauspiciously for trainer John Sadler, finishing ninth in his November 2009 debut at Hollywood Park, but with further experience, he kept improving, winning a maiden race on the Santa Anita turf in his fourth career start in February. He followed that with a March allowance victory, then suddenly entered the Kentucky Derby picture by winning the April 10 Arkansas Derby at 17-1.

"Ever since then, it's just been crazy around here," said Thrash, who also teamed with Sadler to win the Derby Trial last Saturday at Churchill with Hurricane Ike. "There was an article in the paper the other day about what kind of hat Dawn is going to wear to the Kentucky Derby. Everybody's excited."

Expectations are realistic for Line of David, who figures as one of the middling- to longer-priced runners in the field of 20. Line of David, who will have Rafael Bejarano aboard Saturday, has been one-dimensional in going wire to wire in all three of his victories, and Thrash knows enough about the Derby to concede that a no-holds-barred front-running strategy might not work, considering all the other speed in the 1 1/4-mile race.

"The horse has gotten better and better," said Thrash, "but I don't know that the style that he has is a perfect one for the Kentucky Derby."

For Sadler, the California-based veteran who also has one of the more well-regarded Derby starters, Sidney's Candy, in his care, an owner as knowledgeable as Thrash makes life easier. Before returning to their Mississippi roots, the Thrashes lived in other states, including a stint of more than seven years on their own horse farm outside of Versailles, Ky., where they bred and raised their own horses and where "we learned how long it takes and how difficult it is to get a horse to the races," said Thrash.

"Ike has been a terrific owner because he knows so much about what's involved," said Sadler.

Thrash recalls that when he and Dawn were moving the family away from the Phoenix area about 20 years ago, they asked Sadler to train their horses in California. They were a cheap bunch competing at minor tracks in Arizona, and when Sadler said that only two of them were likely to win in California, the Thrashes were taken aback. They withdrew their offer.

"At first I thought he was talking bad about my horses, but after two or three years, I realized John was right about what he was trying to tell me," said Thrash, who has made a fortune through his Dawn Properties Inc., a Hattiesburg company that primarily builds, buys, and sells apartment complexes throughout the country.

In 2007, partly because he owned a graded stakes filly named Dawn After Dawn who had fared well on synthetic tracks, Thrash wanted to consolidate his stable to a circuit with synthetics. That resulted in a phone call to Sadler, who today doesn't recall the long-ago snub of the Thrash horses but was more than willing to listen closely this time. Today, Sadler trains the bulk of the Thrash stable, which generally numbers about 15 active runners.

Many of the Thrash horses are named for family members, including Line of David, named for a son-in-law. Still, with Hattiesburg not exactly a racing hotbed, stakes-caliber horses such as Third Dawn and Emmy Darling have not put the Thrash stable anywhere close to being on the same sports radar as that Favre guy.

"He lives about two miles from me," said Ike's son, Joe Thrash, 27.

"He goes to the same church as us, and I see him every once in a while," said Ike Thrash. "Whenever I meet anybody and tell them I'm from Hattiesburg, he's the first thing they ask about."

Favre being the iconic figure he is, that may never change, although Line of David could be just two minutes away from allowing Hattiesburg to claim another sports feat of world-class proportions. Yes, Line of David is 30-1 on the morning line, but Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009 both captured the Derby at 50-1.

"Winning the Arkansas Derby was such a thrill," said Thrash. "We're pretty calm going into this, and I think I'd be more nervous if I had a 3-5 favorite. But we know that it's like a billion-to-one for us just to be in the race. We're all as thrilled as we can be just to be part of the Kentucky Derby experience."

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