07/14/2014 12:43PM

Hardest Core might test deeper waters after Cape Henlopen score


Hardest Core’s victory in the $50,000 Cape Henlopen Stakes on the Delaware Handicap undercard last Saturday made him a horse to follow in the coming months.

After being hard held early, Hardest Core was simply galloping as he completed 1 1/2 miles on turf in the Cape Henlopen, leaving his nearest of 10 rivals three lengths back. He earned a 91 Beyer Speed Figure and is now 2 for 2 for trainer Eddie Graham since being purchased out of last November’s Keeneland breeding stock sale for $210,000.

A 4-year-old son of Hard Spun, Hardest Core won three of eight starts and $189,000 last year while racing in New York and Florida. Owner Greg Bentley was interested in buying him then, according to Graham, and when he saw him entered in the Keeneland sale, Bentley sent Graham and retired steeplechase trainer Rusty Carrier to Kentucky to buy him.

After being brought east, Hardest Core was gelded. There were complications from the procedure, and he almost died.

“When we cut him, he had a high hernia. All his intestines came out,” said Graham, 43. “We got him to New Bolton, and they did surgery and saved him. It was just a freak thing. It was very frustrating: A little guy like me gets a horse like this, and something like that happens.”

Graham trains off Runnymede Farm in Unionville, Pa. He put Hardest Core back in training at the end of February, beginning slowly by riding him up and down hills at the farm. Hardest Core returned to the races June 28 in a third-level optional claimer at Parx that he won by three lengths. He returned 14 days later to cruise in the Cape Henlopen.

“I’m not the type to run a horse back in two weeks, but he was just doing so well and wanted to run,” Graham said. “He came out of it good. He’s in the feed tub and doing well.”

Graham, Bentley, and Carrier, a co-owner of Hardest Core, have deep steeplechase roots. Graham was a longtime assistant to famed steeplechase trainer Bruce Miller and also worked for Carrier. He has six horses in training: four jumpers, Hardest Core, and Giant Shadow, a maiden purchased from trainer Gary Contessa last winter.

Graham has yet to talk with his owners about Hardest Core’s next race, but he may raise his sights a bit.

“We’ll nominate him to a few places, give him a month, and try to keep him fresh,” Graham said. “It’s pretty exciting.”

Ball and Chain tries grass

Delaware’s sixth race Wednesday is a first-level allowance sprint in which the quick Ball and Chain will make her turf debut.

Ball and Chain, trained by Michael Pino, won her maiden first time out at Delaware last October as a 2-year-old. She returned in a May 31 allowance and dueled with the exceptionally fast Keep Crossing before settling for second. Keep Crossing came out of that race to set a blistering pace in the Beautiful Day Stakes before tiring.

Trainer Larry Jones has entered Cassatt main track only. Cassatt, a 3-year-old daughter of Tapit owned by Fox Hill Farms, was an extremely impressive maiden winner at Fair Grounds on Jan. 9. Sidelined with tender shins after her maiden score, she has worked six times at Delaware for Jones, including five bullets, and will be difficult to beat if this race is switched to the main track.

Jones has also entered Cassatt as part of an entry with Thirteen Arrows in a Thursday main-track sprint. Jones will have the option of staying in the Wednesday race if it comes off the turf, according to the Delaware Park racing office.