04/12/2007 12:00AM

Derby next stop for Hard Spun


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Hard Spun left Keeneland early Thursday morning, and was back in his stall here shortly after noon. In between, though, he made a quick trip over to Churchill Downs, where he turned in a five-furlong work that convinced trainer Larry Jones to stay on course for the Kentucky Derby on May 5.

Jones was concerned that Hard Spun might not like Churchill Downs, believing the surface there is similar to that of Oaklawn Park, where Hard Spun suffered the lone loss of his career in the Southwest Stakes. Jones was prepared to forgo a shot at the Derby, and point for the May 19 Preakness Stakes, if the workout was unsatisfactory. But after Hard Spun zipped five furlongs in 1:00.20 - equalling the fastest time of 15 at the distance - on a fast main track with jockey Larry Melancon, Jones said Hard Spun would head straight to the Derby.

"He worked well enough," Jones said. "It was a good time, he galloped out real well, but the main thing is he recovered very quickly," Jones said. "It took nothing out of him. He just did everything the right way."

Hard Spun won his first four starts, and most recently captured the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park. Following his loss in the Southwest, Jones worked Hard Spun one more time at Oaklawn, but said the colt came back far more exhausted than he should have. Jones theorized that Hard Spun was struggling to get over that surface, so he re-routed Hard Spun from Oaklawn, where Jones was based this winter, and headed for the Lane's End.

Hard Spun will now head to the Derby off a six-week layoff. Barbaro had a five-week layoff before his Derby victory one year ago. Before Barbaro, no horse had won the Derby off a layoff of five weeks or more since Needles in 1956. Circular Quay, one of the expected Derby favorites, will enter the race following an eight-week layoff.

Jones said Hard Spun would train at Keeneland for at least the next two weeks.

"I'll probably head back over to Churchill Downs the Saturday or Sunday before the Derby, and he'll have his final five-eighths work at Churchill Downs," Jones said. "He'll probably work a mile at Keeneland sometime next weekend, or the first part of the following week."

"I'm really happy,' said Jones, a native of Hopkinsville, Ky., who has never started a horse in the Derby. "I'm a happy Kentucky boy. Now the dream is starting to feel like reality."