02/13/2007 1:00AM

Hard Spun in role of latest local hero

Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Trainer Larry Jones has a Kentucky Derby contender in Hard Spun, who last out won the Lecomte at Fair Grounds. Monday, the Pennsylvania-bred Hard Spun will start his Oaklawn campaign in the Southwest Stakes.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Oaklawn Park has earned a reputation for producing good 3-year-olds in the last few years with horses like Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Lawyer Ron. Monday, the horse widely considered the track's next great hope, Hard Spun, will put his perfect 4-for-4 record to the test in the $250,000 Southwest Stakes.

The one-mile race is the first leg of Oaklawn's three-race series for 3-year-olds, which was swept by eventual Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones in 2004, and by Lawyer Ron in 2006. Afleet Alex won the Arkansas Derby in 2005 and went on to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Hard Spun, who is based at Oaklawn, is expected to run in all three, including the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel here on March 17, and the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 14.

Hard Spun is a Pennsylvania-bred like Smarty Jones, and like that horse his perfect record coming into the Oaklawn meet includes a romping win in the $57,000 Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes at Philadelphia Park. Hard Spun also shares some similarities with Afleet Alex, who like Hard Spun won the first two races of his career in dominant fashion at Delaware Park.

"This horse here has caused quite a stir up on the East Coast, since Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Barbaro, all of those came from the same little corner of the network there," said Larry Jones, who trains Hard Spun for Rick Porter. "They're looking for their next big horse. So, needless to say, there's been pressure on him from the word go."

Hard Spun has not disappointed. The 10-1 third favorite among the 23 individual interests in the first pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, he has won his four races by a combined 28 lengths. In his most recent start, on Jan. 13, Hard Spun won the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds by 6 1/2 lengths. The race was his first start around two turns, and he led throughout under Mario Pino for a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 95.

"He acts like distance is not a problem," said Jones. "He just keeps going. And the farther we gallop him now that we know that we're going to be running in route races - we've increased his gallops - he just thrives. The farther he goes the stronger he gets."

Hard Spun tuned up for the Southwest on Monday, working five furlongs at Oaklawn in a bullet 59 seconds under exercise rider Gina Suiter. He broke off several lengths behind a pair of workmates, and passed them in the stretch along the rail. Hard Spun galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.80, according to clockers.

"He's dead fit," said Jones.

Porter, who races Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Round Pond, purchased Hard Spun for $400,000 from Eaton Sales consignment in a private deal after the colt did not meet his $485,000 reserve at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2005. Porter said Hard Spun was on a shortlist of prospects compiled with his trainer at the time, John Servis, who trained Smarty Jones.

"John and I were looking at horses, and we liked him a lot," Porter said of Hard Spun. "I thought he was very well-balanced. The only knock on him was that he was immature because he was born May 10. He was a very attractive young horse."

Hard Spun is from one of the final crops of the late Danzig. His dam, the Turkoman mare Turkish Tryst, was Grade 2-placed and won a stakes at 1 1/2 miles. Hard Spun was bred by Michael Moran and Brushwood Stable, the breeder of the 1985 Belmont Stakes winner, Creme Fraiche.

Hard Spun is a strapping colt, who stands about 16-1 hands tall.

"Surprisingly, he's got a lot of speed to him," said Jones. "Whenever you look at him, he doesn't look to be that type. He doesn't look like a real classic speedball.

"But he doesn't move like a horse you'd think, 'Okay, boy, when we go to a mile and a quarter . . . .' If he moved like that he wouldn't be as fast as he is. He moves like a horse that can go that far, but he's not one of those big, long, lumbersome kind of horses."

Hard Spun had been under consideration for the Grade 3 Risen Star at Fair Grounds after the Lecomte, but Porter and Jones have decided to stick with the original plan of taking Oaklawn's route to the Kentucky Derby.

"That will keep all of his races at least four weeks apart," said Jones. "We thought it was a good time frame for this horse. It would have him racing enough that we wouldn't have to work him excessively to have him fit, and it shouldn't race him so much that he'd give out by Derby time. I think it's important to have a somewhat fresh horse going into that."

Hard Spun is Jones's first colt to be on the Kentucky Derby trail following years of training such top fillies as Grade 1 winners Island Sand and Wildcat Bettie B, and Grade 2 winners Hello Liberty, Ruby's Reception and Josh's Madelyn. Monday, he could become the latest 3-year-old to carry the torch for Oaklawn.