02/21/2007 12:00AM

Hard sell not working for Hard Spun


PHILADELPHIA - I knew a lot of people who were looking forward to seeing Hard Spun run in Monday's Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. I was definitely among them.

Most of them wanted to see if Hard Spun was the next Triple Crown star from the Delaware Valley. I had a different reason. I wanted to bet against Hard Spun.

The colt was a classic example of the Reputation Induced Phenomenon (RIP). Hard Spun had won his four races by a combined 28 lengths. He had not been challenged. He had not run fast.

I was really hoping a bridge-jumper or two would show up and decide a $100,000 show pool investment was a good idea. I was prepared to bet the other eight horses to show, hope Hard Spun ran out, and collect on a few crooked show prices.

That did not happen, as Hard Spun got $21,141 of the $63,232 in the show pool, hardly the kind of percentage that would tilt the tote board. Which was a problem for me. I would now be forced to handicap the race.

The first thing I did was toss Hard Spun, who had $140,519 of the $260,864 in the win pool and went off at 1-2, an insane underlay in my opinion, but a price that RIP horses often bring with them.

Then, I started perusing the exacta board, searching for some guidance. I ended up deciding to key Going Ballistic, a colt I saw closing in a race where it seemed as if there was a lot of speed. I used him with Xchanger, Officer Rocket and Our Sacred Honor. I also boxed those three.

Well, I was right about Hard Spun. And wrong about everything else.

I really thought there was a lot of speed. Wrong. I wasn't all that concerned when Teuflesberg made a clear lead. I didn't think the colt could get a mile in a van. Wrong.

Going Ballistic never made an impact. Xchanger and Our Sacred Honor were never really in it. Officer Rocket finished a decent second. Teuflesberg went all the way. Hard Spun tired in the stretch and finished fourth, a perfect scenario for my show strategy if a bridge-jumper had appeared.

Don't you love it when you get the important stuff right but blow the details? We've all been there before.

People around my way were making Hard Spun/Smarty Jones comparisons because the colts were Pennsylvania-breds and won the Pennsylvania Nursery at Philadelphia Park. It was a rather shallow comparison.

In 2003, Smarty got a Beyer Speed Figure of 105 in the race. In 2006, Hard Spun got an 82. The variant for the two days was nearly identical. The fractions and final time for the seven furlongs were not. Smarty Jones went 21.88 seconds, 44.20, 1:08.67, and 1:21.88. Hard Spun went 23.09, 46.07, 1:11.04, and 1:23.87.

Smarty Jones was a freak, a horse who could run fast and far. Some wanted Hard Spun to be a freak. You are what you are. You can't invent anything in this game. The numbers are the numbers.

Hard Spun obviously has talent, but too often we want something to be true, regardless of the known facts. Before the Southwest, the known facts were that Hard Spun had never been behind horses or run terribly fast.

Hard Spun was hung wide on the first turn of the Southwest. He made a nice wide move on the backstretch and got up to second on the far turn. But that was it.

You could make a case that the track on Monday was favoring speed and the rail. There was, however, other evidence that suggests horses could win by going wide.

Bias or no bias, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, or Barbaro runs right by Teuflesberg. The very best horses overcome obstacles. Hard Spun could not do it.

Does that mean the colt can never do it? No. But it is late February. The Kentucky Derby is barely two months away.

Hard Spun's first three Beyer Figures were 84, 87, and 82. He improved to a 95 in the Lecomte. He got that same 95 in the Southwest. Some might look at that number as a positive, as the colt certainly lost the most ground, yet got the same number as a race where he was loose up top.

Certainly, I am not going to line up to bet against Hard Spun next time. Perhaps the colt will get a better pace scenario and better trip. Regardless, let's chill out on the comparisons. In this sport, nothing is given. It is earned on the track.