05/10/2007 11:00PM

Thor's Echo returning


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Thor's Echo, the champion sprinter of 2006 who raced in Dubai earlier this year, is expected to arrive at trainer Doug O'Neill's Hollywood Park stable Wednesday and will be campaigned in this country for the rest of the year.

O'Neill said he received word earlier this week that Thor's Echo was to arrive in this country over the weekend, would complete quarantine on the East Coast, and then would be sent to California.

O'Neill trained Thor's Echo last year when he won two late-season Grade 1 races to clinch the championship - the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs and the Frank De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel.

At the time, Thor's Echo was owned by Pablo Suarez and Royce Jaime. They sold Thor's Echo to Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed al Maktoum of Dubai in January.

Earlier this year, Thor's Echo was beaten in two starts in Dubai, finishing sixth in a Group 3 stakes on March 1 and sixth in the $2 million Golden Shaheen for sprinters on the Dubai World Cup undercard on March 31.

O'Neill said he has been given no direction as to the level of Thor's Echo's fitness.

"I'm assuming they've done a whole lot of nothing, but that's guess work," O'Neill said. "The little experience I've had with horses coming back from Dubai is they can need a lot of time."

Thor's Echo, 5, finished second in the 2006 Golden Shaheen and did not make his next start until August, finishing fourth in the Green Flash Handicap over five furlongs on turf at Del Mar.

"I'm honored they gave him back to me," O'Neill said.

O'Neill off to slow start

O'Neill led the trainer standings at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting with a record 55 victories. At that meeting, his stable got off to a slow start, winning with just 6 of its first 68 starters.

The current Hollywood Park meeting has begun with similar disappointing results for O'Neill. Through Thursday, O'Neill had won with 3 of his first 34 starters.

During the first few weeks of the meeting, O'Neill spent part of the time in Kentucky overseeing the training of Kentucky Derby hopefuls Great Hunter and Liquidity, who finished 13th and 14th. They are both back in California and O'Neill says he will be running more horses in coming weeks.

"I think we need to get in a groove," he said. "I probably need to be a lot more aggressive at the entry box."

O'Neill did not have any starters Wednesday and had only one Thursday. Through Thursday, he was tied for seventh in the standings. Vladimir Cerin, Peter Eurton, and Mike Puype were tied for the lead with five wins.

For Sunday's nine-race program, O'Neill has three starters - Mon Queen in the second race, Lupita'sluckyangel in the fourth, and first-time starter Alibi and Excuse in the ninth race.

Gryder cleared to ride Friday

Jockey Aaron Gryder has received doctor's clearance to resume riding on Friday after missing three weeks because of a hairline fracture of a shoulder blade, the jockey said Friday.

The injury was diagnosed in late April after Gryder complained of shoulder pain for several weeks. Prior to the first weekend of the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, Gryder was examined by Dr. James Tibone, who found the hairline fracture. The injury did not require surgery.

"I had 23 rides in three days and I wanted to get it checked out," Gryder said. "That's when I discovered it was fractured. If a horse had pulled or stumbled, they told me I could have [broken] my shoulder blade and been out for six to eight months."

Gryder said he has been jogging daily and riding an Equicizer, an exercise machine shaped like a horse that allows jockeys to mimic the motions of race riding.

"The doctor said it was perfect," he said. "I'm ready to start riding."

Gryder finished the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting with 46 wins, fifth in the standings. His leading mount this year has been the stakes-winning sprinter Smokey's Stover.

2-year-old fillies give Ward options

If things go according to plan, trainer Wesley Ward will have a starter in nearly every Southern California stakes for 2-year-old fillies in coming months.

Thursday at Hollywood Park, Ward unveiled his latest prospect: Billie Bob, who won the third race, a maiden special weight race over 4 1/2 furlongs.

Billie Bob is one of several 2-year-old fillies that Ward could start in the $75,000 Cinderella Stakes over 5 1/2 furlongs on May 27, the $100,000 Landaluce Stakes over six furlongs on June 30, or the $125,000 CTBA Stakes over 5 1/2 furlongs for California-bred fillies at Del Mar on July 19.

Ridden by Martin Pedroza, Billie Bob led throughout, winning by 4 1/2 lengths in 52.29 seconds, the fastest clocking of the meeting at the distance.

Billie Bob was making her second start. She finished a troubled fifth as the favorite in a maiden race at Keeneland on April 13.

"She reared when they kicked it," Ward said of that loss. "She ran up inside and checked and then ran up inside again and checked. You can't do that and win going a half-mile."

Ward said some of his fillies may be sent to race on other circuits.

The team includes Sunshine Lover, a maiden winner at Hollywood Park on April 28; Yogi'ssplashofgold, who was second in the Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 3; and One Hot Wish, who set a world record of 48.87 seconds over 4 1/2 furlongs when winning a maiden race at Keeneland on April 12.

One Hot Wish is being strongly considered for the CTBA Stakes, Ward said.

"I'm scattering my horses out, so they don't run against each other," he said.

* The California Horse Racing Board has filed a complaint against trainer Patrick Biancone after Iron Butterfly, the runner-up in the second race on Jan. 7, tested positive for the bronchodilator salmeterol in a post-race urine sample.

A hearing has not been scheduled in the case, the racing board said in a statement.