06/03/2007 11:00PM

Jones laughs off second-guessing


ELMONT, N.Y. - Even though Hard Spun has run well enough to finish second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness, trainer Larry Jones marvels over how much unsolicited advice he continues to get on what to do with his talented 3-year-old colt.

"Most everyone in America apparently thinks they can [train him], and they sure don't mind calling and giving their opinion of what I did wrong," Jones said Sunday morning as he let Hard Spun graze following a five-furlong breeze in 1:03.15 in preparation for Saturday's $1 million Belmont Stakes.

Jones said a fan approached him one day at Delaware Park to inquire whether Hard Spun was going to run in the Belmont. When Jones said yes, the man chastised him.

"I thought he was going to say good luck or whatever and he said, 'Well, I'll have you know, that horse can't go over a mile, I don't know why you all are trying to run him over a mile,'" Jones said. "I thought, 'You know, this horse has made $900,000 doing a mile or more, it looks like he can do the mile to me.'"

On another occasion, Jones said a woman who said she supported Hard Spun in the Derby and Preakness called his Delaware Park barn and told his wife, Cindy, that she was jumping off the bandwagon.

"She explained she watched this horse from his first race on and she had been a big supporter of him in the Derby and the Preakness but, in all good faith, she just could not support him in the Belmont," Jones said.

Jones, who has handled himself with humor and humility on his first trip down the Triple Crown trail, says the interest in the horse is appreciated, though can sometimes be annoying.

"The only thing I can do is laugh about it because I got the horse and they don't," Jones said.

This week, Jones has got the horse in New York because he truly believes Hard Spun is a natural fit for the Belmont Stakes, which at 1o1/2 miles is the longest of the three Triple Crown races. Hard Spun, who has raced five times this year, certainly looks no worse for the wear from running in the first two legs. His coat is good, and he has not lost any weight, something that even Jones marvels at.

"I guarantee you he's as heavy today as he was going into the Derby," Jones said. "We're very fortunate. It's something that doesn't happen. I've run enough of them cheap claimers to know they don't come out of a race as good as he does and they don't even try. It's unbelievable to think about what he's done and the paces he's been setting in the races and to be as good as he is."

Garrett Gomez, who worked Hard Spun on Sunday and who will ride him in a race for the first time in the Belmont, said he was impressed with how well the colt has taken his races.

"He doesn't look like a horse that would have all the stress of the races that he's been through," Gomez said. "He's carrying good weight, his mind is in a good place, he's enjoying what he's doing. Hopefully, he'll get the mile and a half."

Jones thinks the 1 1/2 miles is well within Hard Spun's scope. Hard Spun's mother, Turkish Tryst, won a 1 1/2-mile stakes. Hard Spun's father, Danzig, sired 1986 Belmont winner Danzig Connection.

"We're not in here just to say 'Hey, we were in all three legs of it,'" Jones said. "We feel like we have a really good shot at this, and the horse is just doing too good to not give him the opportunity."

While much has been made over a premature move that Mario Pino made aboard Hard Spun in the Preakness, Jones said Hard Spun had something to do with that. Jones said he had put Hard Spun behind horses twice in the mornings during the winter and the horse always accelerated once he saw daylight.

While there are those who may doubt Hard Spun's ability to get the 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont, Jones is wondering if Curlin, the Preakness winner and probable Belmont favorite, wants to go that far.

"When you look at a horse that you expect to go a mile and a half, you don't look at Curlin and say 'Boy, he's going to love a mile and a half,'" Jones said. "I would hope somewhere around there he's going to get tired of packing that big frame of his around. That may not be, but it's something that gives us hope enough to enter against him."