09/27/2007 12:00AM

Hard Spun's speed gives him an edge

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Street Sense (right) and Hard Spun, the top two finishers in the Kentucky Derby, meet for the third time in the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park.
FLORENCE, Ky. - Mario Pino chuckled after being asked about the strategy he will employ when riding Hard Spun in the Kentucky Cup Classic on Saturday at Turfway Park.

"It's no big secret," said Pino. "We're going to the lead."

At least on paper, few races play out as simply as the 14th Kentucky Cup Classic seems likely to do. Hard Spun, breaking from post 1, figures to take immediate command, and then at some critical point during the 1 1/8-mile journey, Street Sense will make a run at him.

Game on.

"My job is going to be to ration whatever I can," said Pino. "My horse has the ability and the speed. This is going to be a fun race to be in and ride. You're talking about two of the best horses in the United States."

With just three other horses opposing them, the Grade 2 KC Classic could quickly boil down to a match-race scenario between the 2007 Kentucky Derby winner, Street Sense, and the runner-up, Hard Spun. Longstanding conventional wisdom about match races is that the horse with the superior early speed has a substantial tactical advantage - and that's something that has not escaped the notice of the Street Sense connections.

Earlier this week, after Street Sense recorded another strong workout at his Churchill Downs home base, trainer Carl Nafzger and jockey Calvin Borel both addressed race strategy at length, saying they want to win as badly as anyone while also declining to say they would pull out all stops to win. An enormous mitigating factor is involved: Street Sense needs to be at his absolute best for his next race, the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 27 at Monmouth Park, the last start of his career.

"If we're making a strong run, that's what I want to do," Nafzger said. "I want to see him finish off the race strong. As long as I finish off the race strong, I know I'm going to be okay when I get to where I'm going, because there, there's not going to be anybody that's going to get an easy lead."

Street Sense, who also finished comfortably ahead of third-place Hard Spun in their only other meeting, when Street Sense was narrowly defeated by Curlin in the Preakness, has been made the 3-5 program favorite by Turfway linemaker and race-caller Mike Battaglia. Hard Spun is the 8-5 second choice. The other starters are Stream Cat (4-1), Muqbil (20-1), and Cat Shaker (30-1).

Larry Jones, who trains Hard Spun for the Fox Hill Farms of Rick Porter, has been at Turfway with his stable star since Tuesday evening. Both Jones and Pino noted that while Street Sense is winless in two attempts on Polytrack, the synthetic racing surface in use at Turfway, the only Polytrack race for Hard Spun resulted in an emphatic victory in the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway last March.

"It was one of the biggest races he's ever run," said Pino. "He handled the track beautifully that day."

While Street Sense has whipped Hard Spun in both prior meetings, Jones conceded that a confluence of factors that appear to favor Hard Spun "give us a real good chance to turn the tables on him Saturday."

"Let's hope we can go out there and show we can beat him," Jones said.

The Classic is the anchor of the annual Kentucky Cup series, which includes four other races: the $175,000 Distaff, $100,000 Juvenile, $100,000 Sprint, and $100,000 Juvenile Fillies.

The Kentucky Cup events are carded consecutively as races 6 through 10 on a 12-race Saturday program, with the Classic going as the 10th. Post time for the Classic is 5:42 p.m. Eastern. TVG will have on-site coverage of all the Kentucky Cup races.

The base purse for the KC Classic is $350,000, with $150,000 of that for horses eligible to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. Of the five starters, only Hard Spun, a Pennsylvania-bred, is ineligible to the KTDF. However, another $150,000 is being offered to the winner if he is a Grade 1 winner in 2006-07. Only Street Sense and Hard Spun are eligible for the bonus.

The weather forecast for Saturday calls for sunny skies and a high temperature nearing 80.