08/08/2014 2:23PM

Graham has ambitious options in mind for Hardest Core

Tom Keyser
Hardest Core is 2 for 2 for trainer Eddie Graham since being purchased for $210,000 out of last November's Keeneland breeding stock sale.

Eddie Graham trains off Runnymede Farm in Unionville, Pa. He has six horses under his care, four of whom are jumpers. He also conditions Hardest Core, a talented and improving turf marathoner who is likely to race next weekend in either the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga or the $400,000 American St. Leger at Arlington Park. He also is pre-entered in the Arlington Million.

Hardest Core is 2 for 2 for Graham since being purchased for $210,000 out of last November’s Keeneland breeding stock sale. He will be taking a giant step up in class regardless of which race Graham and owners Greg Bentley and Rusty Carrier choose, but judging by his last race, a much-the-best, three-length win in the $50,750 Cape Henlopen Stakes at Delaware Park, he just might be up to the task.

Like the Cape Henlopen, next Sunday's $500,000 Sword Dancer will be run at 1 1/2 miles. The American St. Leger, at 1 11/16 miles, is longer still. Graham pre-entered Hardest Core on Friday for the St. Leger and Arlington Million, which will be run next Saturday.

“I want to wait and see where everyone’s going and how the races set up before making a decision,” Graham said. “I want to see how many English horses are running in the St. Leger. You don’t want to run against those horses at that distance sometimes.”

In the Cape Henlopen, Hardest Core was slow to settle but finished strongly. It was an unusual race in that every quarter was run quicker than the preceding one. The splits were 25.44 seconds, 25.33, 24.82, 24.77, 23.78, and 23.58. Hardest Core took the lead after a mile and covered his last half in 47.36. He was given a 96 Beyer Speed Figure.

Graham, 43, said the horse has held his form since the July 12 race.

“He’s ready to run,” Graham said. “We’ve done what we always do, keep him happy. I’ve given him a few works. I took him to Fair Hill and gave him a work, and I’ve worked him here on the farm.”

A work at Runnymede Farm is not a typical breeze. The farm does not have an oval track.

“We have a turf run that wraps around and then goes up a big hill,” Graham said. “It’s very English, and that’s the way I train.”

Graham comes from the steeplechase side of the fence. “It’s in my blood,” he said. He started out riding – “I liked it but wasn’t very good,” he said – and then worked as a longtime assistant for leading horseman F. Bruce Miller, the trainer of five-time steeplechase champion Lonesome Glory.

Graham also worked as an assistant for trainer Carrier, a part owner of Hardest Core. Majority owner Bentley has campaigned steeplechase runners for many years, including Clearance Code, the winner of the Grade 1 Royal Chase at Keeneland in 1998, when trained by Carrier.

Graham is on an odd hot streak. His horses have won five of their last six starts, dating back to last November. He won two jump races with Nat Grew, now 10, in November and then April and a third-level optional claimer with Hardest Core at Parx in June. He then lost a Monmouth maiden race with Giant Shadow.

Since then, he has won the Cape Henlopen with Hardest Core and a July 27 maiden race with Giant Shadow. Bentley purchased Giant Shadow from trainer Gary Contessa over the winter in Florida.

The streak will get even stranger if Hardest Core is successful next weekend. And that is not an impossibility.