11/21/2008 12:00AM

Thorn Song tries to avoid duel

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Thorn Song and Canela have run some phenomenal races this fall, albeit in different leagues. Thorn Song won the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile in October, while Canela recently won an allowance race to move his record on the Churchill Downs turf course to 4 for 4.

The two will meet for the first time Saturday in the Grade 3 River City Handicap at Churchill, and their similar running styles would seem to be a critical factor in the outcome. At their best, both are tenacious front-runners.

"Hopefully our horse will show some versatility and lay off the pace, if that's what we need to do," said Dale Romans, trainer of Thorn Song, the defending River City champion.

Thorn Song, with Robby Albarado to ride, will break from the outside post in a field of 11 entered in the 1 1/8-mile River City. A winner of $914,981 for Zayat Stables, Thorn Song will spot his rivals three to nine pounds as the likely favorite.

"From the 11-hole, Robby should be able to dictate what he wants to do," Romans said.

Canela, trained by Mike Maker for Scarlet Stable, will have leading jockey Julien Leparoux aboard when he leaves from post 9. Although he has knocked around the claiming and allowance ranks for much of his 41-race career, his latest victory on Nov. 6 was extremely impressive, when he drew off late despite virtually running off early.

If an overly taxing speed duel between Thorn Song and Canela does develop, Karelian could be the one to capitalize. Two starts back, returning from an 11-month layoff, the lightly raced 6-year-old won the Sea o' Erin on the Arlington Park turf with a sustained run from just off the pace. Calvin Borel rides for trainer Rusty Arnold.

Other possibilities in a deep cast for the 32nd River City include Just as Well, from the ever-dangerous Jonathan Sheppard stable, and Steve's Double, entered off back-to-back triumphs in turf stakes at Louisiana Downs and Remington Park. Completing the lineup are Yate's Black Cat, Mr. Sidney, Star Plus, Pleasant Strike, Telling, and Demarcation.

The River City, the ninth of 10 races, highlights an excellent Saturday card. Also on tap are the Bet On Sunshine (race 8), an overnight handicap pitting Euroears versus Kelly's Landing, and two allowances (races 5 and 7). First post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern.