Derby at stake for Hard Spun

Win today would help boost stakes earnings

Horse Racing

March 24, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

Hard Spun has lost only once in five career starts, but his race today in the Grade II $500,000 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., is crucial to his future on the trail to the Kentucky Derby.

Why? Because Hard Spun needs money to qualify for the Derby on May 5 if more than 20 horses enter.

Right now the Pennsylvania-bred son of Danzig has just $60,000 in qualifying graded-stakes earnings, which puts him 35th on the list of all nominees. Officer Rocket, the 20th-ranked horse, has $153,260, and time is getting short on a schedule that has just one more possible Derby prep race after today.

"We just, right now don't need to make mistakes," said Hard Spun's trainer, Larry Jones. "We've got a few graded earnings, and we feel like this horse is quite capable of getting [more]. If he doesn't make the graded earnings, then definitely, he doesn't deserve to be in the Derby."

Hard Spun, who was high on the radar screen early this year, dropped off after finishing fourth in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, despite running a strong race from the far outside post.

Today, however, he is expected to be the betting favorite in a 12-horse field, despite his No. 10 post. The field includes possible pacesetter Forefathers and For You Reppo, who has been first or second in each of his past three races, including his most recent race, a Gulfstream allowance, in which he finished a strong second to the Michael Matz-trained Chelokee, who appears headed for the Florida Derby.

The Lane's End and the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes, also at Turfway, will be broadcast live on ESPN at 5 p.m..

"I'm not worried about the outside post," Jones said. "The 10 is OK. It's a pretty good run to the first turn, and the Polytrack does not appear to have the bias against the outside runners the way Oaklawn did in the Southwest. And, I'm sure Mario [Pino, his Ellicott City-based jockey] will get the best route he can find."

At Oaklawn, where Jones' stable is based during the winter, Hard Spun never got comfortable.

"I could just tell he was having to do too much and work too hard," Jones said about the way his colt reacted to the Arkansas dirt. "Now, he's placed just exactly where the cards have led us. We started off with a campaign for him that increased his distances out gradual like we wanted to do. That went well. We went to the Lecomte and that went well [with an impressive win].

"Now, we'll see how he does at Turfway. I've never won a race on Polytrack, and I'd like to one day."

Trainer Eric Reed, who had planned to send his horse Catman Running in the Lane's End until drawing an inside post, which he judged would be too much pressure for his developing 3-year-old, said he is puzzled by Jones' decision to send Hard Spun to Turfway.

"Hard Spun is the one I can't figure out," Reed said. "I mean he's really a nice horse and Larry's a good trainer. I just don't understand why he came to Turfway to try out another track he doesn't know much about when he was concerned about the track at Oaklawn. ... I'm real confused on what he's doing here."

Jones laughed during a phone interview when asked about Reed's remarks, indicating that despite that he hasn't won on Polytrack, his horse might know more than some people think about how to handle the surface.

"We don't have anything to lose running him at Turfway," he said. "And I have trained him on the synthetic Tapeta surface at Fair Hill, and he liked the surface at Fair Hill. I also know Danzig offspring have done well on the synthetic surfaces."

If Hard Spun has a strong race today - which means he wins and doesn't have to work too hard in doing so - Jones said he will probably run him again April 14 in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, which also has a Polytrack surface.

Race for the Kentucky Derby

Top 20 3-year-olds in earnings:

Horse Earnings

Street Sense $1,332,000

Dreaming of Anna $1,225,040

Circular Quay $1,116,134

Holy Roman Emperor (IRE) $748,121

Great Hunter $730,000

Scat Daddy $708,500

Birdbirdistheword $637,000

Stormello $582,900

Rags to Riches $330,000

Nobiz Like Shobiz $328,500

Notional $282,000

King of the Roxy $280,000

Romance Is Diane $275,550

Xchanger $202,890

Tiz Wonderful $202,592

Pirates Deputy $200,000

Kirklees (IRE) $199,873

Mount Nelson (GB) $181,91

Curlin $180,000

Officer Rocket (GB) $153,260

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