03/13/2007 12:00AM

Hard Spun live at 20-1 as Derby futures play

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After losing for the first time in the Feb. 19 Southwest Stakes, Hard Spun seemed to drop in popularity like the Dow Jones Industrials two weeks ago, when the market lost over 4 percent of its value.

Call it a bubble-bursting, a Kentucky Derby Future Wager correction. But call it potentially a good thing for horseplayers seeking to buy a Derby futures ticket on the talented horse at a decent price.

After closing at 10-1 odds in Pool 1 of the Derby Future Wager in early February, he was 16-1 in Pool 2 on Thursday afternoon, though only $16,009 of a pool expected to total between $400,000 and $500,000 had been bet.

I am guessing he will start even higher than 16-1, likely above his 20-1 morning line odds.

Admittedly, Hard Spun should not be the favorite. He has not had a good month.

Besides finishing fourth, beaten three lengths by Teuflesberg in the Southwest, he also recently was pulled out of consideration for the March 17 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, his base this winter. With trainer Larry Jones thinking the colt might not care for the Oaklawn Park track surface, he is pointing him toward a start on Polytrack in the March 24 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park.

That news will undoubtedly cause some bettors to balk at the prospect of betting him. Handicappers want to back a horse for which things are going smoothly, not the other way around.

The change in plans also gives me some cause for pause, but it doesn't alarm me to the extent that I'm going to pass on betting him - that is, if he drifts up to 20-1 or more. This is a horse that is 4 for 5, a dominant winner of the Grade 3 Lecomte earlier this year, and he is managed by sharp connections.

He simply lost one race, and it is not as if he ran that badly. Breaking from the far outside in the Southwest, he raced wide and yet still managed to match his career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 95. Factor in the ground he lost and his race rates even better.

Keep in mind that his Beyer was equivalent to the figure Any Given Saturday earned in winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 17, and Any Given Saturday is regarded as one of the favorites in Pool 2.

Provided he starts above his morning-line price of 20-1, Hard Spun represents a good wager.

He is not the only horse I expect will offer value in Pool 2. As of 3:40 p.m. Thursday, King of the Roxy, Notional, Sam. P., and Stormello were good prices at 62-1, 37-1, 69-1 and 22-1 odds, respectively.

In each case, I expect the odds on these horses to drop before the pool closes at 6 p.m. Eastern Sunday, but not so much that they will be among the favorites. None of the them are expected to run this weekend, which puts them out of sight, and hopefully out of the minds of fellow bettors.

I anticipate futures horseplayers this week will be focused mostly on those horses running in the major stakes races for 3-year-olds that are on tap for Saturday. In particular, the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds will go a long way in influencing the Derby futures odds.

So by being inactive this week, the horses I have noted might slip through the betting cracks. At least, that is the hope.

Betting Strategy

My wagering plan is simple. I'll play any of the five horses I have noted in this column, provided their prices exceed what I believe is a fair on them. This means waiting to bet until just before the pool closes.

Hard Spun looks like a fair wager at 20-1 or more, as does Risen Star Stakes winner Notional and Hollywood Futurity winner Stormello. King of the Roxy and Sam. P. look appealing at 40-1 or more.

I will also give a look to playing the field, provided that group of horses is higher than 5-1. The field, which was 7-1 Thursday afternoon, includes all 3-year-olds besides the 23 horses listed as individual betting interests in Pool 2.

As for Pool 2 favorites Nobiz Like Shobiz, Any Given Saturday, Great Hunter, and Street Sense, they have earned my respect, but likely not my mutuel support. I am not interesting in taking relatively short odds on them. None of the foursome seems likely close at much more than 10-1 in Pool 2.

With two months still remaining until the Derby, too much is left to chance to make them appealing wagers at that price.