04/07/2015 2:16PM

Hardest Core to start season in Man o’ War

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Hardest Core upsets the Arlington Million last summer.

Last season’s Arlington Million winner, Hardest Core, is on target to make his 5-year-old debut in the Grade 1 Man o’ War at Belmont Park on May 9, according to trainer Eddie Graham.

Hardest Core is based at the Runnymede Farm of his majority owners, Gregory, Caroline, and Andrew Bentley, in the beautiful Unionville area of Pennsylvania. Graham has had Hardest Core in training since Jan. 1, with the bulk of his preparation coming at the nearby Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland due to winter conditions at Runnymede.

“I have stalls at Fair Hill, and he’s been galloping there,” Graham said. “The ground is just getting good here now on the farm.”

When conditions permit, Hardest Core will resume training at Runnymede, getting his daily exercise on the hills and dips of the surrounding countryside.

The Bentleys and minority owner Rusty Carrier purchased Hardest Core for $210,000 at the 2013 Keeneland November sale. Following a Parx allowance win and a small stakes victory at Delaware Park, Hardest Core posted a stunning victory in the Arlington Million. He concluded last season with an eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita. A bit fresh and unable to find early cover, he took his rider to the lead six furlongs from home and then weakened in the stretch.

Because of its 1 3/8-mile distance, the Man o’ War might seem like an odd comeback spot following six months on the sidelines, but Graham, the Bentleys, and Carrier have steeplechase backgrounds, and Graham is comfortable that fitness will not be an issue.

“Everyone is excited about this year,” Graham said. “I think he’s a more mature and stronger horse this year. At 4, he was so big. Now, this year, I think he is growing into his body.”

Graham also has selected a comeback race for Giant Shadow, a 4-year-old daughter of Giant’s Causeway. Giant Shadow is being pointed to the $100,000 Dahlia Stakes at Pimlico on April 18. The Dahlia is a one-mile turf race.

Giant Shadow was having difficulty dealing with life at the racetrack when the Bentleys bought her last winter. She calmed down, began eating better, and showed improvement in her training when moved to the farm. She won a maiden race at Parx, an allowance at Laurel, and an optional-claiming race at Parx in succession before concluding her season with an 11th-place finish in the Long Island Handicap at Belmont Park.