08/25/2007 12:00AM

Hard Spun battles to King's Bishop win


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Hard Spun finally got his first Grade 1 victory, but he had to earn every bit of it, digging down gamely in the final sixteenth of a mile to outfinish First Defence for a 1 1/2-length victory in Saturday's $250,000 King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga.

Hard Spun had finished second in both the Kentucky Derby and Haskell Invitational, third in the Preakness, and fourth in the Belmont, all Grade 1 races, over the past 3 1/2 months. Saturday's victory was also of added importance to the Darley Stable, who purchased breeding rights to Hard Spun earlier this year.

Despite competing around one turn for the first time at 3, Hard Spun raced right with the early pace of Spin Master, who cut out fractions of 22.94 and 44.20 seconds after ducking out to bump Hard Spun soundly leaving the gate. Hard Spun forged to a short advantage midway on the turn while still under snug restraint from jockey Mario Pino but was quickly joined by First Defence, who stalked the early leaders following a very alert start.

First Defence moved on even terms with Hard Spun as the pair entered the stretch and even appeared to gain a short advantage as the battling duo passed the eighth pole. But Hard Spun and Pino were able to fend off the challenge, gradually edging clear from their lone challenger in deep stretch.

E Z Warrior, expected to force the early pace, instead raced well back in the field of 11 3-year-olds before rallying mildly between horses to finish a nonthreatening third.

Hard Spun covered the distance in 1:22.34 seconds over a fast track and paid $4.60.

"He's a fast horse, but he's also just as game," said Larry Jones who trains Hard Spun for the Fox Hill Farm. "He had done everything up to now except win a Grade 1, so this win was very important for his stallion career and one of the reasons we decided to run him in this race. I could see he was keeping up with the pace very easily even though they were going fast, and I think his class edge might have carried him at the end."

Despite Hard Spun remaining undefeated around one turn, Jones said he would stick to his original plan and point him for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27.

"We already know he'll go a mile and one-quarter," said Jones. "We'll look for a race at a mile or a mile and one-eighth for the next start and ease our way into getting him back to a mile and one quarter again."

Bobby Frankel, who trains First Defence, said, "He ran great, but experience got us beat today."