Updated on 09/17/2011 9:06PM

O'Neill takes WinStar Derby and Oaks

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Bill Pitt
Thor's Echo wins the $500,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland Park on Saturday.

SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - Trainer Doug O'Neill swept into town with a pair of California-breds to monopolize New Mexico's biggest day of Thoroughbred sport on Saturday, winning the $500,000 with Merv Griffin's Cee's Irish before a crowd of 15,333.

Corey Nakatani rode both winners for O'Neill, and employed similar tactics in both races.

"Corey recognized early that there was a pretty apparent bias toward speed today," said O'Neill, who also won the WinStar Derby in 2003 with Excessivepleasure. "I've got to give him a lot of credit for a couple of masterful rides."

Racing for Royce Jaime and Pablo Suarez, Thor's Echo went postward in the 9-furlong Derby as the 2-1 second choice in a field of eight that included stablemate Dover Dare and invaders Sort It Out and Southern Africa, who was favored at 8-5. Thor's Echo battled with Cajun Pepper early but then had the pace to himself until Southern Africa and Jon Court drew alongside to challenge halfway down the backstretch.

Those two raced as a team until deep in the stretch, when Thor's Echo edged away from Southern Africa and win by a length, reversing their order of finish in the Borderland Derby at Sunland in February. Sort It Out finished well to be third, a neck behind Southern Africa. The final time for the 9 furlongs was 1:49.59.

In the 1 1/16-mile Oaks, Nakatani and Cee's Irish were stalked on the lead by local hopeful Dayglogreen, who actually put a head in front as they turned into the Sunland stretch. Cee's Irish responded quickly, though, and pulled away to win by 2 1/4 lengths in a final time of 1:44.66, while Island Escape finished 3 1/2 lengths behind Dayglogreen in third. Pegasus Rose, the 4-5 favorite ridden by Pat Valenzuela and trained by Bob Baffert, ran fifth.