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Crown of Thorns defeats Sidney's Candy

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Crown of Thorns won his first race in 39 months in Saturday's $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park, ending a series of frustrating events for owner B. Wayne Hughes and trainer Richard Mandella that lasted about that long.

Crown of Thorns ($7.40) finished 1 1/4 lengths in front of 2-5 favorite Sidney's Candy, who was starting for the first time since winning the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort Stakes at Santa Anita last December. Spurrier finished third, a half-length behind Sidney's Candy and a nose in front of Honour the Deputy. There were only four runners.

Crown of Thorns ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.73, his first victory since the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in February 2008. Plagued by injuries in recent years, Crown of Thorns did not race against until September 2009. The win in the Mervyn LeRoy was just his seventh start since the Lewis, a span that included a nose loss in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita in 2009 and a second in the Grade 1 Goodwood Stakes here last October.

A 6-year-old horse, Crown of Thorns was the morning-line favorite in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs last fall but did not start because of a knee injury. The Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap was his second start of 2011, preceded by a seventh-place finish in the Potrero Grande Stakes at Santa Anita last month, a loss that Mandella blamed on himself for not having the horse sufficiently prepared.

As a result, much of the focus of the Mervyn LeRoy was on the comeback of Sidney's Candy. Ridden by Alonso Quinonez, Sidney's Candy led by as many as 1 1/2 lengths through early fractions of 24.05 and 47.22 seconds. Jockey Tyler Baze moved Crown of Thorns to within a half-length length of Sidney's Candy on the final turn. Crown of Thorns did not take the lead until the final furlong.

"I didn't want [Sidney's Candy] to get away and we made sure we had some pressure on him," Baze said. "I thought we had a heck of a shot to win."

The Mervyn LeRoy was Baze's first graded stakes win of his comeback, which began in late April after a nine-month rest caused by facial injuries suffered in a prerace accident at Del Mar last July.

Crown of Thorns, by Repent, has won 3 of 10 starts and $777,080. "I've always loved the horse," Mandella said. "We've always thought he'd be better going long."

MERVYN LeROY HANDICAP | PURSE: $150,000 | GRADE 2 | 3-YEAR-OLDS AND UP | 1 1/16 MILES