02/17/2007 12:00AM

A more savvy Hard Spun in Southwest

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Hard Spun has won all four of his starts on sheer talent. Now he's a more polished racehorse, said his trainer, Larry Jones, and the timing could not be better. Hard Spun will put his perfect record on the line Monday in the $250,000 Southwest Stakes, the first leg of the 3-year-old series at Oaklawn Park.

Hard Spun will have to overcome post 9 in the one-mile Southwest, which will begin and end at the sixteenth pole. Among his rivals are fellow Grade 3 winners Officer Rocket and Xchanger. The race also drew multiple stakes winner Going Ballistic and the well-regarded Forty Grams.

Hard Spun has rattled off his wins by a combined 28 lengths, his latest a 6 1/2-length score in the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds on Jan. 13. All of his wins have come on the front end, but since his last start, Hard Spun has had two educational works. In the first, he broke off behind workmates and came around them to cover five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.60 under exercise rider Gina Suiter.

"He ate a lot of dirt, and still when he came out and saw racetrack, he knew to go," said Jones.

In the second work, Hard Spun also broke off behind a pair of workmates, but this time came through along the rail to cover five furlongs in a bullet 59 seconds under Suiter.

"We had the inside open the whole time, but we wanted to make sure he would sit behind them until we said go, and he did," said Jones. "They got to riding him tight before it was over, just to test him and give him a little bit of that eyeball, and it doesn't faze him. He just goes and does his work."

The training should give Mario Pino, who rides Hard Spun, some new options with the colt in the Southwest.

"He's ready to do whatever," Jones said of Hard Spun. "We're set to go to the front. If they don't want it, we'll take it. And if somebody else wants it, we're set to, hopefully, just do whatever we need to do.

"I think he's a professional racehorse now, and we're ready to step it up."

Forty Grams has won his maiden and an allowance in his last two starts. The allowance win came by 13 lengths in a one-mile race at Fair Grounds.

"He's coming at the right time, and I'm hoping he's a legitimate horse," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Forty Grams.

Donnie Meche has the mount.