The first time Thorn Song set foot on the Churchill Downs turf course, he rejuvenated his career. In his next outing under the Twin Spires, the gray son of Unbridled's Song earned his first graded stakes win.
On Saturday, Zayat Stables' Thorn Song will seek another milestone over the grass course when he attempts to defend his title in the Grade III, $100,000 River City Handicap against 10 challengers.
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Now a Grade I winner with a bankroll closing in on $1 million, it's hard to believe it was only a year ago Thorn Song had his connections wondering if he would ever figure out how to find the winner's circle.
He was winless in his first seven starts on the dirt before he finally broke his maiden in his first try over the grass at Churchill last June.
Since that time, Thorn Song has rattled off six more victories. They include a sterling 1¼-length score in the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last month and a win in last year's running of the River City at 11⁄8 miles.
"I remember we were getting very frustrated because here we had a horse with all this talent but he just couldn't get that win," said Sobhy Sonbol, racing manager and vice president of Zayat Stables. "(Trainer) Dale Romans called me and said 'Maybe let me try him on the grass,' and he's been a completely new horse.
"He's always had so much talent and ability, and his best asset is utilizing his speed. The Shadwell was the perfect race where he put it all together, and it was probably one of the most exciting wins we've had."
While the 5-year-old horse's connections hoped he would close out this year with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, the front-running horse faded to ninth behind top European filly Goldikova.
When Thorn Song rebounded from that outing in good order, it was decided to return him to Churchill, where he has won four of five outings over the Matt Winn turf course.
"He might have gone too fast or the turf might have been too firm," Sonbol said of Thorn Song's Breeders' Cup race. "He ran a hard race, but this looked like a good spot to pick up another graded stakes win and it's obviously a good surface for him."
Although many farms have worn out Sonbol's cell phone trying to add Thorn Song to their stallion roster, Sonbol said the well-built horse is slated to return for his 6-year-old season. He could test synthetic surfaces for the first time, and he might even head to Dubai for a start in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free in March.
"We've had a lot of people interested in him but ...we feel his value might even be better if we give him the chance to explore synthetics," Sonbol said. "He doesn't have much else to prove, so we'll maybe try something new with him."