01/24/2008 1:00AM

All eyes on Honest Man


Honest Man has been mistaken in looks for Hard Spun. In time, trainer Larry Jones would love to see the horse's past-performance lines mirror those of the Grade 1 winner. Honest Man's march upward will begin on Saturday night, when he makes his stakes debut in the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park.

A year after future Grade 1 winner Student Council captured the 1 1/8-mile Maxxam for 4-year-olds and up, another strong field has been assembled. Tap Dancing Mauk and Reporting for Duty, each of whom won major stakes last month at Zia Park, are part of a six-horse cast that also includes multiple stakes winner Goosey Moose.

Honest Man is the wild card. Unbeaten around two turns, he has won his last three races dating back to a maiden route in his third career out at Philadelphia Park on Nov. 4. His last two wins have come in two-turn races at Fair Grounds, for which he earned Beyer Speed Figures of 95 and 99.

"He's a big, grand-looking horse," said Jones. "When I'd be riding him back from the track, people would be asking me, 'Oh, is the big horse doing good?' They think it's Hard Spun. I said, 'Yeah, he's doing good, but this isn't him.' I said, 'This is the one who's going to have to take over when Hard Spun's gone.' So, he is the one who is trying to fill the void for us, you know."

Now retired, Hard Spun ran second for Jones in last year's Kentucky Derby and later won the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga. Honest Man is bred to be every bit as good. He is a son of Unbridled's Song and the Grade 1-winning mare Oath, who is a half-sister to champion War Pass.

Honest Man, who races for Fox Hill Farms and WinStar LLC, has more natural speed than most of his rivals, and should be prominent early on Saturday.

"He can sit right off of it or take it to the front," said Jones, who has given the mount to Gabriel Saez.

Tap Dancing Mauk won the $186,000 Distance Championship in his last start, Dec. 9, when he closed from seventh for a 1 1/4-length score, earning a career-best Beyer of 97.

"He ran a fantastic race," said Bill Mauk, who races Tap Dancing Mauk in partnership. "He's just a good, useful horse."

The Distance Championship was run at 1 1/8 miles. Tap Dancing Mauk also won that race in 2006.

Reporting for Duty won the $106,000 Zia Park Derby in his last start, and is coupled in the Maxxam with Red Rock Creek, runner-up in the Distance Championship. Both are trained by Steve Asmussen.

* Buy the Barrel heads a field of 12 in the $50,000 Sam Houston Distaff, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares.