12/16/2006 1:00AM

Hard Spun towers over Nursery rivals


The Pennsylvania Nursery, a $50,000 race for statebred 2-year-old colts and geldings, doesn't usually figure in the plans of candidates for the Triple Crown trail. Three years ago, however, Smarty Jones made his second career start in the seven-furlong Nursery before heading to Oaklawn Park, where he prepped for his victories in the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Hard Spun, a Pennsylvania-bred who has won his first two starts impressively, will attempt to follow in Smarty Jones's footsteps Monday as the odds-on favorite in the Pennsylvania Nursery at Philadelphia Park.

According to owner Rick Porter, whose Fox Hill Farm owns Hard Spun, trainer Larry Jones intends to ship Hard Spun, a son of Danzig, to Oaklawn on Wednesday. The plan is for him to make his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 13.

On paper, Hard Spun should have little trouble defeating his nine Pennsylvania Nursery rivals. His 88 Beyer Speed Figure for his most recent victory in an overnight stakes at Delaware Park is more than 15 points better than all but one of his opponents.

The lone horse who appears to have a shot at an upset is Favorite Valay. Trained by Bob Seeger, Favorite Valay comes off the best effort of his three-race career. He rallied from off the pace to miss by a nose in a first-level allowance two weeks ago.

Favorite Valay will race with blinkers for the first time. Seeger has a 26 percent success rate and a $4.74 return on investment with that angle the past two seasons.

Those looking for a possible live longshot should take a look at All Sails Flying and Road to Richmond.

The Maryland-based All Sails Flying was claimed out of 4 1/4-length front-running victory at Laurel Park on Dec. 2. Trainer King Leatherbury is 13 for 40 with first-time claims the past two years.

Significantly, All Sails Flying is the only Nursery entrant to have won at seven furlongs.

Road to Richmond, from the high-percentage barn of Mike Pino, held on by a neck when he debuted for a $25,000 claiming tag at Delaware in early November. He regressed in his first start against winners, but gets a significant rider shift to Harry Vega.