(July 4, 2008) – Thorn Song led every step of the away and upset odds-on favorite Einstein by one length in Friday’s $213,250 Firecracker Handicap (Grade II) at Churchill Downs.
Thorn Song, with Kent Desormeaux and 118 pounds in the saddle, ran one mile over yielding turf in 1:36.69. Einstein was the 1-2 favorite and 124-pound starting high weight in the field of five older horses.
Sent off as the 9-5 second betting choice, Thorn Song returned $5.60 and $2.20. Einstein, the 1-2 favorite, paid $2.10.
Thorn Song, who won his only other stakes event over a yielding turf course at Churchill Downs in last fall’s River City Handicap (GIII), set the pace off the rail and clicked comfortable fractions of :23.79 for the first quarter mile and :47.50 for the half, while maintaining a one-length advantage. He turned back a bid from Faith’s Magic with an eighth of mile to go and held sway late for his fourth victory in five starts over the Matt Winn Turf Course.
Thorn Song, a 5-year-old gray son of Unbridled’s Song, improved his record to 6-4-3 in 19 starts and jumped his earnings to $517,981, thanks to the $135,780 first prize for owner Ahmed Zayat.
Trainer Dale Romans collected his third stakes victory of the Spring Meet. He also won the May 3 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (GIII) with Bayou’s Lassie and the May 17 Matt Winn with Eaton’s Gift, another Zayat Stables’ runner.
“I expected him to run big today,” Romans said. “Einstein had beaten us three times and we were hoping to beat him today, but not expecting it.”
Einstein, runner-up on dirt to “Horse of the Year” Curlin in the Stephen Foster (GI) on June 14 and winner of this year’s Gulfstream Park Turf (GI) and Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI), tracked the winner from the inside most of the way. The 6-year-old made an inside move at the top of the stretch to come within a length of the leader. After briefly losing ground and dropping to fourth, Einstein was moved to the outside by jockey Robby Albarado and made a belated late move to finish second, a half-length length ahead of Steve’s Double.
Faith’s Magic was another length back in fourth with Brazilian-bred Portuga a distant last after he dwelt at the start in his U.S. debut. A.P. Xcellent and Inca King were scratched.
Closing week at Churchill Downs continues Saturday with an 11-race card that begins at 1:15 p.m. EDT. The featured event is the Grade III, $100,000-added Bashford Manor, a six-furlong sprint for 2-year-olds. The 52-day season concludes Sunday.
FIRECRACKER HANDICAP JOCKEY & TRAINER QUOTES
Kent Desormeaux, Jockey, Thorn Song, winner: Q: Was he a better horse today than last fall when he won the River City Handicap here? “Yes he was. He was real good today. He was very attentive to my needs and it made my job a whole lot easier when they race right off your fingertips. He gave me a lovely ride. He did great. In the first 100 yards, there was a little bit of pressure and at 300 yards they tested him again, but he was in the bridle and did his job. He was a racehorse today, he really was. I think he enjoys the mile and that is another positive for him. I think it was a nice spot with a light field and everything worked out.”
Dale Romans, Trainer, Thorn Song, winner: “I expected him to run big today. Einstein had beaten us three times and we were hoping to beat him today, but not expecting it. I will talk to Mr. (Ahmed) Zayat about his next race but it will probably be at Saratoga.”
Robby Albarado, Jockey, Einstein, second: “He stumbled a couple of times, but I'm not going to make any excuses. The winner ran a big race. The mile is conducive to his style better than mine. Einstein ran great. He's not stressed -- he's not blowing. He came back good. The goal is the Arlington Million, so we had to run him somewhere. Today was a good fit for him.”
Q: It looked at one point like he might not even finish in the top three, then he came back…
“That's what I'm saying. The mile is a little short for him. We saw that when he ran against Kip Deville at Keeneland in the Maker’s Mark. He was running late again, and it set us up for the Woodford (Reserve Turf Classic), so we were trying to do the same thing here."
Q: It would have helped if you'd had a little help on the front end. The two scratches left Thorn Song as the only speed…
"The scratches didn't help me."
Helen Pitts, Trainer, Einstein, second: "Going a mile you're having to chase him all the way, and he had to move a little sooner that what he'd like. But he ran great and ran the last part. He's a big horse, and that's why the mile is a little bit harder on him. But he did what he had to do and hopefully it will set him up good for the (Arlington) Million."
Q: The scratches of two other speed horses didn't help you either…
"That's what Robby said, and the more that I think of it he's right. That was all of the speed. If somebody had gone with that horse it would have helped, but we couldn't do it. He was just chasing (Thorn Song) into the turn, and Robby was trying to stay up in there because he knows he can't let him get too far away from him. But, at the same time, you're having to make him run a little earlier than usual because that's not his style. Now, at a mile and a quarter or a mile and an eighth, he's going to be right there."
Q: It might work out for the best -- he should be sharp for the Million off this…
"What else are you going to do? I couldn't sit on him for two months (after the Stephen Foster). He had to run and get a piece of it knowing that it's not his best distance. It had to serve your purpose with the horse. Now I've got five weeks to let him rest up, get a couple of good works in him and point for the Million."