01/17/2007 12:00AM

Jones's barn loaded for bear


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Larry Jones is coming off his best year as a trainer, with $2.8 million in stable earnings and 14 stakes wins, but he could take things to a whole new level this year.

Jones trains the undefeated 3-year-old Hard Spun, who last weekend ran his record to 4 for 4 in the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds. It was a big step on the road to the Kentucky Derby for Hard Spun, who is one of 40 horses Jones has on the grounds this meet at Oaklawn Park. His stable also includes Grade 1 winner Wildcat Bettie B.

"I don't think we've had a stable anything like this strong, and especially with some of the young prospects coming up," said Jones. "It seems awfully good right now."

Jones has 52 horses in training overall, with his overflow at a nearby training center. Hard Spun was a 6 1/2-length winner of the Lecomte in his first start around two turns. Last year, he won the $61,000 Fort Penn at Delaware Park and the $57,000 Pennsylvania Nursery at Philadelphia Park, a race for Pennsylvania-breds that was won in 2003 by an undefeated Smarty Jones, who went on to sweep the 3-year-old series at Oaklawn and win the Kentucky Derby in 2004.

"I've had some decent colts years ago, but this colt here is without a doubt the most talented colt I've ever had," Jones said of Hard Spun. "He's more the total picture than everything else. Usually, the other colts that I've had have had weak links in them here, there, or yonder. But this colt here, he's pretty professional in everything."

Jones and Hard Spun's owner, Rick Porter, have been discussing next-race options. The long-term goal is the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 14, and there is a chance Hard Spun could also start in the Grade 2, $600,000 Louisiana Derby on March 10. As for his next race, Jones said it could come in either the Grade 3, $300,000 Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 10, or the $250,000 Southwest at Oaklawn on Feb. 19.

Hard Spun has used front-running tactics to win his four races by a total of more than 28 lengths. For the Lecomte, he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95.

"Everything he's done so far has been so easy for him, he doesn't realize he's really done a lot," said Jones. "Everything has just been very easy for him, and that is a good sign."

Wildcat Bettie B. makes things look easy, too. She won the $50,000 Dixie Belle last year at Oaklawn, and by August had racked up three graded wins: the Grade 3 Miss Preakness at Pimlico, the Grade 1 Prioress at Belmont, and the Grade 3 Victory Ride at Saratoga.

"She is back for another year, now especially that they have a filly and mare sprint for the Breeders' Cup," said Jones. "Since they've added that second day on there, we've got something to aim for. That will be her long-term goal, Monmouth Park for Breeders' Cup 2007."

The new $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint is part of a two-day expansion of the Breeders' Cup championship program, and will be run on Friday, Oct. 26. During the Oaklawn meet, Jones said, Wildcat Bettie B. could see stakes action against males in the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint on April 13.

Other horses he has pointing for stakes here include Miss Elsie, on deck for the $50,000 American Beauty on Saturday, and Gasia, a candidate for the Grade 3, $175,000 Azeri Breeders' Cup on March 10.

Jones, a 50-year-old native of Hopkinsville, Ky., began training in 1982. Other top horses he has trained include Grade 1 winner Island Sand; Grade 2 winner Ruby's Reception; Grade 2 winner Josh's Madelyn, who has been retired and is to be bred to A.P. Indy; and Grade 2 winner Hello Liberty, who was sold recently at Keeneland.