Crown of Thorns ready for Stephen Foster
June 16, 2011 06:58am

It was a long time coming, but Spendthrift Farm LLC’s Crown of Thorns finally had his first gallop over the historic one-mile track at Churchill Downs on Wednesday.

The trip around the track by the 6-year-old son of Repent was more than three years in the making.  First aimed toward the revered Twin Spires as a 3-year-old looking toward the Kentucky Derby, Crown of Thorns will make his Churchill Downs debut, and his first start outside of southern California, in Saturday’s 30th running of the $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (Grade I).

Crown of Thorns has raced only 10 times in his career, but has performed impressively despite a string of injuries that have kept him from truly gaining momentum since he launched his racing career in late 2007.  As a 3-year-old he looked like a major Kentucky Derby threat after winning the Robert B. Lewis (GII) at Santa Anita, but was injured a short time later and went on the shelf for a year and half.  Crown of Thorns finally returned to competition in Sept. 2009, but would run only five times over the next 15 months.  The last four of those were strong runner-up finishes in Grade I races, including a nose loss to Dancing in Silks in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) at Santa Anita.

Crown of Thorns was being pointed toward last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) at Churchill Downs, but a minor knee problem knocked him out of that race just before his scheduled journey to Louisville.

Mandella was at Churchill Downs on Wednesday to watch Crown of Thorn’s first gallop over the traditional dirt surface at the Louisville track.

“He’s a horse I’ve always been close to,” Mandella said.  “He’s a very classy horse to be around and has a very nice mind.  He’s got a ton of talent, but he’s accident-prone.”

Crown of Thorns is coming off a victory over the accomplished Sidney’s Candy in the Mervyn Leroy (GII) over the synthetic Cushion Track surface at Hollywood Park.  It was his second start of 2011.

Now Mandella’s veteran will attempt to grab the first Grade I victory of his career in the 1 1/8-mile Foster.  A good run by Crown of Thorns over the racing strip at Churchill Downs could be important if Mandella’s stays healthy and earns another trip to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be run for the second consecutive year in November at Churchill Downs.

"It’s a well-respected race with a lot of money, and you don’t get too many chances with this guy,” Mandella said.  “So you go for the gold.  I think having a run over this racetrack and seeing how he likes it is important.

“The timing is the most important thing with him. You fit him where it works.  It (the Stephen Foster) came up at the right time.  I don’t want to plan two weeks from now and find out I missed my plan two weeks ago.  You put several options on the plate, and not just with him.  You do it with all the horses.  You’d better not let them know your plans.”

Tyler Baze, who was aboard Crown of Thorns in the Mervyn Leroy, will fly in from California for the ride in the Stephen Foster.  Crown of Thorns’ record in his 10 career races stands at 3-4-1 and he has earned $777,080.

The first-place check in the Foster would push Mandella’s lightly-raced star past the $1 million mark in earnings, though the veteran trainer is neither counting on that milestone nor concerned about it.  He’s hoping for a good effort by Crown of Thorns and that his star comes out of the race well.  After that he’ll consider a next step that will be in the best interest of the horse that he has handled like fine china.

There’s no reason for Mandella, or Crown of Thorns, to rush into anything now.

“I just do the best we can,” Mandella said.  “We don’t cry over anything.  We’re glad to have him.

"With these horses you just appreciate when you’ve got ‘em, and appreciate it when it works. … I’ve learned to appreciate what happens when it happens.”


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