03/25/2007 11:00PM

Jones's Derby trail started in Delaware


FLORENCE, Ky. - Larry Jones is a Kentucky boy, born and raised in Hopkinsville, but it took moving to Delaware for him to find his first serious prospect for the Kentucky Derby.

Jones is the trainer of Hard Spun, whose emphatic triumph Saturday in the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park stamped the colt as a viable contender for the 133rd Derby on May 5. Jones, 50, has been training for 25 years, most of them within the boundaries of his home state, but when he couldn't get a sufficient number of stalls last spring at Churchill Downs, he decided to move his stable to Delaware Park.

It was in Delaware that Jones happened to meet Rick Porter, under whose red-and-white Fox Hill Farms colors Hard Spun has now raced to victory in 5 of 6 starts.

"Without that move to Delaware, I wouldn't be in the position I'm in now," said Jones. "That's a fact, pure and simple. Things happen for a reason, I guess, and obviously it was a great move for me."

Jones said Hard Spun, who earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 101 in his Lane's End triumph, most likely will race next at Keeneland in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes on April 14. Although Jones sent his wife and assistant, Cindy, from his winter base of Oaklawn Park to Turfway for a two-week lead-in to the Lane's End, Jones will personally oversee the colt's training at Keeneland up to the Blue Grass. Hard Spun was vanned Sunday to Keeneland, where another seven horses will be stabled with Larry Jones while Cindy Jones finishes out the Oaklawn Park meet before heading back to Delaware.

Jones said the chance of having a live Derby horse is "something you dream about and really can only kind of wish for. You figure it'll never happen to you, and in my case, I was always buying fillies for my clients, so I really never thought something like this would happen. This is great. Believe me, it's one of those deals where you kind of get to live a dream, you really do."

Record crowd ontrack

After several years of miserable weather on Lane's End Day, Turfway finally caught a break Saturday with sunny skies and temperatures in the 70's. The result was a crowd of 23,815, highest in track history.

The all-sources handle of $9,494,967 on the 12-race card was not a record and was up only 3 percent over last year, although handle on the Lane's End alone was $2,491,348, up 42 percent over last year.

Big day for small stable

With Dominican winning the Rushaway Stakes and Sedgefield finishing second in the Lane's End, Saturday was an unforgettable day for Silverton Hill Farm, a small breeding and racing operation based about 40 miles southeast of Louisville in Springfield, Ky.

The Silverton Hill horses run in the name of Tommy and Bonnie Hamilton, with Darrin Miller as trainer. Miller was based this winter at Palm Meadows in south Florida but recently moved his 16-horse stable, including Dominican and Sedgefield, to Keeneland.

"We really haven't cemented our plans for either one of them," Miller said Monday. He added that Dominican might run in the Lexington on April 21 at Keeneland, "but we really haven't decided about Sedgefield."

A full brother to 2006 Eclipse turf finalist English Channel, Sedgefield could stay on the Derby trail "because there it is, right in front of you," said Miller, although he acknowledged the colt's future probably is on turf.

Dominican, making his first start in four months after finishing third behind Tiz Wonderful and Any Given Saturday in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall at Churchill, earned a 95 Beyer. Sedgefield got a 96.

To date, the best horse for Silverton Hill and Miller has been Great Notion, who had several good races as a 3-year-old in 2003, winning the Southwest at Oaklawn and finishing second in the Amsterdam and King's Bishop at Saratoga.

Outside shots

Outside post positions have been known to be a hindrance in two-turn races, but that certainly wasn't the case in the Lane's End. The horses breaking from the four outside posts in the 12-horse field swept the top four spots, with the 10-12-9-11 superfecta returning $4,170.20 for a $2 wager.

Perhaps an even more unlikely occurrence came to light in the Lane's End's official chart: The winning margin from Hard Spun to Sedgefield was 3 1/4 lengths; the margin from Sedgefield to third-place finisher Joe Got Even was 3 1/4 lengths; and the margin from Joe Got Even to the fourth horse, For You Reppo, sure enough, was 3 1/4 lengths.

* Saturday was a good afternoon for veteran trainer T.V. Smith, who sent out two winners from as many starters. Steel Spyder, a first-time starter by Jump Start ($30.80), won the first race, and Sheets ($3.80), a 3-year-old filly by Scatmandu, easily won the fifth race, an entry-level allowance.