01/26/2007 1:00AM

Thor's Echo got hot at right time


Thor's Echo arrived in Kentucky for the Breeders' Cup Sprint flying well below the radar, almost an afterthought in a field that included division leaders Henny Hughes and Bordonaro. He was a longshot to win the race, let alone an Eclipse Award title.

But three weeks later, after a convincing victory in the Sprint and a hard-fought triumph in the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial Dash, Thor's Echo moved to the top of his division, and last Monday he was honored with the Eclipse Award for champion sprinter.

Thor's Echo, a 4-year-old California-bred son of Swiss Yodeler and Helen of Troy, did not just beat the best sprinters in the country on Breeders' Cup Day. He destroyed them. Extending his advantage with every stride after assuming command approaching the stretch, he won by four widening lengths under Corey Nakatani. In doing so, Thor's Echo matched his career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 116, earned four weeks earlier in the Grade 1 Ancient Title Handicap.

In the De Francis, Thor's Echo returned on relatively short rest and drew the outside post in a field of nine. Yet despite never really seeming to handle the deeper racing surface at Laurel Park, Thor's Echo was able to dig down and find enough in reserve to withstand a final charge from runner-up Diabolical, who appeared to have the Breeders' Cup champ measured at midstretch.

The Sprint and the De Francis were the only two victories by Thor's Echo from seven starts in 2006. But to label him a three-week wonder would be doing an injustice to a horse whose campaign included a second-place finish in the world's richest sprint race, the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen, as well as a game second behind Bordonaro in the Ancient Title in his final prep for the Breeders' Cup.

In the Dubai Golden Shaheen, Thor's Echo chased fellow Californian Proud Tower Too from start to finish while finishing in front of 13 of the world's fastest horses. In the Ancient Title, it took a career-best performance by Bordonaro to keep Thor's Echo out of the winner's circle while setting him up perfectly for his year-ending heroics.

"I thought he had a fantastic year right from start to finish," said trainer Doug O'Neill. "He ran great in Dubai but came out body-sore. The trip really took its toll, and some horses never recover from it. So for him to regain his stride and that good form and then go back to back in the Breeders' Cup and De Francis was amazing."

Thor's Echo was campaigned during 2006 by co-owners Pablo Suarez and Royce Jaime but was sold to the Maktoum family of Dubai shortly after being named a finalist for an Eclipse Award. According to one agent involved in the sale, Thor's Echo was purchased by Sheikh Rashid al Maktoum, who is also the owner of Henny Hughes, another finalist in the sprint division.