The 2006 Breeders' Cup Sprint
Fourteen horses entered the starting gate at Churchill Downs for the sixth race on November 4, 2006. They were about to travel three-quarters of a mile on the main track, and the journey would take a little over one minute.
The prize awaiting them was the Breeders' Cup Sprint, a Grade I race that had been part of the big event since its inception in 1984. No one had won the Sprint more than once, and there would be no repeat champion in 2006. Silver Train, the reigning champion, was not in the field this time around, and the public saw his successor being Henny Hughes.
Riding a three-race winning streak into the Sprint, Henny Hughes had beaten Silver Train in Belmont Park's Grade I Vosburgh Stakes in early October. No one saw him losing here, and the confidence in was so high that many horses in the field were at double-digit odds come post time.
One of them was a California-bred named Thor's Echo, who had not won a race in over a year and had only won a handful in his career. Even so, he had been a pretty consistent horse, routinely showing up in the minor awards from the start of his time at the races. In fact, he had been the runner-up in three of his last four starts. He was part of the exacta in the Group I Golden Shaheen that spring, and later took second in the Grade I Ancient Title Stakes four weeks before the Sprint. At the very least, Thor's Echo came into Kentucky with some class, even if he was not seen as a contender for the win.
When the bell rang and the field exited the gate, Attila's Storm wanted the early lead and got it. Reunited with jockey Corey Nakatani, Thor's Echo exited from the rail position well and in a matter of seconds moved up to third while being roughly a length behind the leaders. That was nothing new with Thor's Echo, who had a history of being in early contention before the Sprint. As for Henny Hughes, he was well off the pace, which was something he was not accustomed to so early in a race.
After a :21 2/5 opening split, Attila's Storm had a narrow lead over Bordonaro entering the far turn. Nakatani found an opening on the outside and guided Thor's Echo to it. With the possibility of being trapped along the rail now eliminated, the duo got going around the turn to draw even with Attila's Storm and Bordonaro while they turned into the stretch. With Nakatani urging him, Thor's Echo took the lead before coming to the furlong pole. Henny Hughes was out of it, having nothing left to challenge for the win. Several others in the field did their best, but the day belonged to Thor's Echo.
He came to the wire in 1:08.80 for the biggest win of his career, and he gave trainer Doug O'Neill his first Sprint title and Nakatani his fourth. Thor's Echo also achieved a measure of revenge by beating Bordonaro, who Thor's Echo concluded 2006 with another Grade I win by taking Laurel Park's Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash, but the highlight of the year was unquestionably the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
There was also a couple of pieces of history that Thor's Echo collected thanks to that victory. First, the gelding earned the distinction of being the second Cal-bred to win a Breeders' Cup event. Tiznow had been the first when he captured the Classic in 2000, and now Thor's Echo was a part of that group.
And the Sprint helped make Thor's Echo a divisional champion twice. When the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Awards for the 2006 season were held, Thor's Echo was honored as the year's top Cal-bred Sprinter. He was a winner at the Eclipse Awards, too, for he was named Champion Sprinter at the ceremony. That made him only the third Cal-bred to take home an Eclipse, joining Snow Chief (1986) and Tiznow (2000, 2001) in that category. With that one win, Tiznow became a member of some rare company.
Before he entered the Sprint, Thor's Echo had won several minor stakes earlier in his career. He was not without class come the autumn of 2006, but he reached the top level of racing when he added a Grade I to his credentials. And it was not just any Grade I. It was the biggest race for sprinters.
He took on a field consisting mostly of graded stakes winners, including multiple Grade I titlists, and got his first graded stakes victory by doing so. It was his greatest moment.
On any given day, a horse can stand at the top of his division. It is even more fun when that horse is an underdog. Given his more than 15-1 odds in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the fact he had not won a graded stakes race before, Thor's Echo literally defied the odds to win the highest honors in both California and American racing.