06/29/2005 12:00AM

Thor's Echo well spotted in Iowa Derby


ALTOONA, Iowa - Trainer Doug O'Neill has picked spots carefully for Thor's Echo, and he could reap a large reward here in Friday night's $250,000 Iowa Derby.

The 1 1/16-mile derby is a co-feature on the card, along with the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks. Friday is the start of the four-day Iowa Festival of Racing, which features two stakes per day through Monday and purses totaling more that $1.1 million. Saturday's $300,000 Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap is the highlight of the Festival. The 1 1/8-mile race has been upgraded to a Grade 2 this year.

Owners Royce Jaime and Pablo Suarez purchased Thor's Echo after his second career start, a 4 1/4-length victory against California-bred maidens on Jan. 21. They then turned him over to O'Neill.

"The plan was to stretch him out and try to win some stakes races," said O'Neill.

O'Neill accomplished that goal by staying away from the nation's top 3-year-olds, shipping instead to Sunland Park, where scored a front-running victory in the $500,000 WinStar Derby on April 2 in only his fourth career start.

Following the WinStar, O'Neill ran Thor's Echo at his home base of Hollywood Park, and Thor's Echo faded to fourth in the $250,000 Snow Chief for statebreds. Three weeks later, Thor's Echo was shipped to Texas for the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby but again he faded late after dueling for the lead.

"We probably wheeled him back a little too quick after he ran so hard in California," said O'Neill. "We've freshened him up since. He has a real good foundation and we gave him a couple of marathon-type works getting him ready for Iowa. He's ready to run a big race."

Thor's Echo figures to be one of many in the eight-horse Derby field who will gun for the early lead. Thor's Echo is the 122-pound highweight and will give away six to nine pounds to his rivals.

, trained by Eoin Harty, is the main danger. He finished in front of Thor's Echo last time out when second, beaten 1 1/4 lengths, in the Lone Star Derby. That race was Shamoan's first try on the dirt after nine turf starts to begin his career.

Although Shamoan has only a maiden win, he has yet to finish off the board and was third in two turf stakes in California.

enters the derby off a rallying score here in the $50,000 Prairie Mile on June 11 for trainer Judi Hicklin.