01/16/2007 1:00AM

Hard Spun's options remain open


NEW ORLEANS - Good horses force trainers and owners to make tough decisions, and undefeated Hard Spun is posing a quandary to trainer Larry Jones and Fox Hill Farms after his impressive victory last Saturday in the Grade 3, $100,000 Lecomte Stakes for 3-year-olds at Fair Grounds.

Hard Spun's strong showing Saturday in his fourth victory and first start around two turns stamps the Pennsylvania-bred Danzig colt as a potential Triple Crown candidate. But which road should Hard Spun take?

Should Jones, who is training Hard Spun at Oaklawn Park, follow a path through the April 14 Arkansas Derby, as another Pennsylvania-bred, Smarty Jones, did three years ago en route to a Kentucky Derby victory? Or should he continue to run Hard Spun at Fair Grounds and point to the March 10 Louisiana Derby?

"Either option would be a good option," Jones said. "If we work him over the Oaklawn track and decide that he doesn't like it as well as he likes it at Fair Grounds, we'll bring him right back there."

Right now the Louisiana route may have a slight edge if only because Hard Spun, ridden by Mario Pino, ran such a good race over the track in the Lecomte.

"This was the first time he raced against top-notch horses," said Jones. "He handled them well, even though he had never worked over this course and they had all either raced or worked over it. That's a huge benefit to him to have a trip over the track now. The Louisiana Derby is a definite possibility. He finished very well and went out another sixteenth after the race.

"We had discussed it in Pennsylvania, if he wasn't pressed too hard at the wire to let him finish out the extra sixteenth and get used to it," Jones said. "Mario said he was still looking at everything once he opened up on everyone, so he kept going with him. There's no point pulling him up at the sixteenth pole, even though that's where the mile finish line is. We want to get him used to going to the regular finish line."

Pino is already highly impressed with Hard Spun.

"This is the best 3-year-old I've ever been on, by far," he said.

Get Ready Bertie heads to Oaks

Get Ready Bertie stepped to the head of the class at Fair Grounds last Saturday with a two-length victory in the $100,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile. Her immediate goal is the Grade 2, $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 10, but trainer Steve Flint may be looking even farther down the road to the Kentucky Oaks.

"The further they go the better she'll be," said Flint, who watched Get Ready Bertie rally from last after stumbling at the break. "Her mother [De Bertie] was a top-quality filly. She's one of these advancing fillies. Every time we run her, she steps up. She still has a lot to prove, but this was her first step. I think I'll wait and run her next in the Fair Grounds Oaks in March. I think I'll give her a little more time."

Wes Hawley is likely to point Dawn After Dawn, who held second in the Tiffany Lass after dueling for the lead, to the Grade 3, $200,000 Silverbulletday Stakes on Feb. 10.

"I don't think I trained her hard enough since her last race," said Hawley, who had given her three weeks off after her race previous to the Tiffany Lass. "You can be sure I'll train her a little harder for the next one."

Muniz logical next step for Purim

Purim held off Fort Prado by a head in a stirring finish to the $100,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap for older horses on the turf last Saturday. Trainer Tom Proctor would not predict when Purim, who has also won stakes on dirt, would run next, but if he sticks to a turf program he's likely to square off with Fort Prado again in the Grade 2, $500,000 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap on March 10.

Proctor was just happy to see Purim redeem himself after a poor finish as the favorite in his return from a six-month layoff in the Diliberto Handicap last out.

"He is a big, heavy horse," said Proctor. "I'm sure he needed the last race."