Updated on 09/18/2011 1:28AM

Rail no problem for Thor's Echo


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Doug O'Neill and owners Pablo Suarez and Royce Jaime were hanging their heads a bit after Thor's Echo drew post position 1 for Saturday's $2,130,000 Breeders' Cup Sprint. But in the end the seemingly unlucky draw proved to be a blessing and helped propel the California invader Thor's Echo to a convincing four-length victory over the 58-1 Friendly Island in the six-furlong Sprint.

Henny Hughes, the 8-5 favorite coming off three one-sided victories entering the Sprint, stumbled briefly at the start and was never a factor, finishing last in the field of 14.

Under a beautifully judged ride by jockey Corey Nakatani, Thor's Echo saved ground while chasing embattled leaders Bordonaro and Attila's Storm down the backstretch. He angled out three wide entering the turn, assumed control at the quarter pole, then drew off with complete authority through the stretch. Friendly Island also benefited from his inside post, saving ground into the stretch before easing out and outfinishing fellow longshot Nightmare Affair by a half-length for second.

Bordonaro was hard used contesting the pace with Attila's Storm for the opening half-mile and finished a tiring fourth.

Thor's Echo, a 4-year-old gelded son of Swiss Yodeler, paid $33.20 after covering the distance in 1:08.80 over a fast track. He also keyed huge exotic payoffs that included a $113,911.80 superfecta return for $2. The victory was the first in six starts in 2006 for Thor's Echo, who also had finished second in the Dubai Golden Shaheen and Grade 1 Ancient Title.

"At first we were really down about drawing the rail, but after watching the earlier races we could tell there was a bias towards the inside and we really started to get excited because it was obvious the rail was the place to be," said O'Neill, who won the 2005 Juvenile with Stevie Wonderboy. "We even started joking before the race about how we could probably sell our post for good money. And even though the post helped, Corey did a fantastic job maneuvering him out like he did."

Nakatani said he wanted to stay on the rail as long as he could, but once leaving the backstretch had no choice but to angle out and go after the leaders.

"On the turn I had so much horse that if I had stayed on the rail much longer I would have run over the ones in front of me," said Nakatani. "As we got to the quarter pole I decided we should just go and put the race away now."

O'Neill said Sunday that Thor's Echo would probably be pointed for the Grade 1 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park on Nov. 25.

"Our goal now is to win a championship," said O'Neill. "He's already done quite a lot this year, having won the Sprint and finished second in both the Dubai Golden Shaheen and Grade 1 Ancient Title. But he probably has to win a race like the De Francis to get the Eclipse."

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said jockey John Velazquez told him Henny Hughes never handled the track.

"John said he knew after he'd gone two jumps he was in trouble," said McLaughlin. "He said he was just spinning his wheels and never got a hold of the track. That's never happened to him before, but Churchill Downs can be a little funny. He's always been a bit of a slow breaker, but the start wasn't the problem."

Several other riders complained their horses didn't handle the track, including Patrick Valenzuela, who rode second choice Bordonaro, and Alex Solis, who was aboard Siren Lure.

Nightmare Affair's owners Gary Marano and Ron Borgese supplemented their horse into the Sprint at a cost of $180,000 and received a payday of $213,000 for his third-place finish as a 29-1 outsider in the race.

"It was never about the money," said Borgese. "Well it's sure nice to win the money but you can't buy this kind of experience with all the money in the world."