11/12/2007 1:00AM

When his 2-year-olds begin racing, they're ready to run

EmailJerry Hardin said he believes patience pays off when training horses. That is why it is rare to see him race a 2-year-old until the fall. It is also a part of the reason he has good success with fillies, his star this year being Ahead of Her Time, whom he and longtime business partner Dwight Fugate sold privately three weeks ago to Heiligbrodt Racing Stable.

Hardin has 30 horses based at Delta Downs in Vinton, La., where last month he sent out a pair of 2-year-old debut winners, Crazyfromthegitgo and Erlroy. He came into the meet following a successful season at Louisiana Downs, where Ahead of Her Time captured the $100,000 Louisiana Breeders' Oaks in July. This winter, Hardin also plans to have a string of about 10 horses based at Oaklawn Park and will ship in for Louisiana-bred turf races at Fair Grounds.

For Hardin, 61, enjoying the best year of his career with stable earnings of $718,315, developing horses is his first love. No surprise, since Hardin, a graduate of Henderson University, got his start breaking young runners in his native Arkansas for the late breeder, owner, and trainer Luther Shelton.

"I really like the 2-year-olds," Hardin said. "I just enjoy watching them learn and grow and expand. I never was one that wanted to start running them before I thought they were ready to win. When I lead them up there, I think they're supposed to be ready to win at first asking, if they can.

"To me, it just seems to be the best route because that makes you take a lot of time with one. I'm very slow to get one ready to run. It's usually late in the year before I start running them. I get a lot of miles under them before I ever even breeze them."

Hardin's approach is to let a young horse's bone structure set before the stress of works, the goal being long-term soundness. His patient approach has seemed to work well with fillies. Some of his best have been Injustice, a multiple stakes winner he sold one start before she captured the Grade 3 Azeri Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn, and Runaway Fair Lady, a winner of the Pago Hop at Fair Grounds.

"Usually the fillies will mature a little bit later than the colts, and the lot of ground I like to put under them before I start breezing them gives them time to mature," Hardin said. "It seems to me colts will kind of mature then tail off on you. Fillies, when you get them up to a point to where they're mature and you've got them pretty well ready to run, it seems I can keep them going better than I can the colts."

Ahead of Her Time won the first five starts of her career for Hardin, from August 2006 to July 2007. She last raced on Sept. 23, and finished second in the $200,000 DeBartolo Oaks at Louisiana Downs. She is a half-sister to Butter Head, a stakes-placed mare for Fugate and Hardin, and Hisse, a stakes winner who races for Heiligbrodt.

Fugate and Hardin own about 20 horses together, and focus on buying young stock at auction. Many of the prospects they target are yearlings and 2-year-olds bred in Louisiana.

"He gets the biggest thrill out of those young horses winning, and so do I," said Hardin.