Updated on 04/27/2016 3:45PM

Hardest Core fresh, fit for comeback

Four-Footed Fotos
Hardest Core has been building stamina galloping at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland.

Hardest Core burst onto the national scene by upsetting the 2014 Arlington Million. But almost as quickly as he arrived, Hardest Core faded from view last year while making only a single start.

Now, at age 6, Hardest Core is only weeks away from making his return to the races for trainer Eddie Graham. Last Sunday, Graham vanned Hardest Core from the Chester County, Pa., farm of owners Gregory and Caroline Bentley and their son Andrew to Fair Hill in northern Maryland, where he breezed five furlongs in 1:02 over the training center’s Tapeta surface.

The work was the third for Hardest Core since April 10. He had previously breezed a half-mile over Tapeta in 51 seconds and a half-mile in 51 over turf.

“He works longer than it shows on paper,” Graham said. “I give him a good bit of exercise before he begins.”

Hardest Core has only started twice in the 20 months since his Arlington Million win, and neither of those races went according to plan. Ten weeks after the Million, he finished eighth in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita. He finished sixth and last in his most recent start, the Grade 1 Man o’ War at Belmont Park last May.

Hardest Core was too keen in the 1 1/2-mile Breeders’ Cup and wouldn’t settle for rider Eriluis Vaz, who, after attempting to keep him off the pace, let him go to the front six furlongs from home. He was swallowed up in midstretch.

In the Man o’ War, Hardest Core delayed the start when he refused to go to the gate, then tired after a mile in the 1 3/8-mile marathon.

“I knew he was done before he got to the gate that day,” Graham said. “He’ll fight if you yank on him, and he got into a tug of war with the pony. He’s better if you don’t let the pony person hold him, if you just keep him behind the pony.”

In his first workout following the Man o’ War, Hardest Core was injured.

“He pulled up bad that day,” Graham said. “He had a tendon tear.”

Graham and the Bentleys both have steeplechase backgrounds, and tendon injuries are common in that sport.

“I stopped on him and rehabbed him and gave him the time he needed,” Graham said. “I put him back in training on the first of January, and I’m really happy with him. He’s doing good.”

At the farm, Hardest Core trains on the hills and pastures of the undulating countryside. When Graham wants to work him, he takes him to Fair Hill.

“We’ve done some hills with him in his galloping and jogging to build stamina,” Graham said. “He’s a fresh and happy horse. Hopefully, he keeps going the right direction.”

Hardest Core was part of Frank Stronach’s horse-racing league through the end of his 3-year-old season. The Bentleys and retired steeplechase trainer Rusty Carrier bought him for $210,000 at the 2013 Keeneland November sale.

In his first three races for Graham, Hardest Core won an allowance race at Parx, the Cape Henlopen Stakes at Delaware Park, and the Arlington Million. Including the Breeders’ Cup and Man o’ War, Hardest Core has earned $660,000 since being purchased.

Graham plans to bring Hardest Core back either in an overnight race or a small stakes before considering anything more ambitious.

“I want to make sure he still has that fire,” he said.