Fox Hill Farm’s Hard Spun stamped his ticket to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) Thursday by breezing five furlongs in a bullet 1:00 1/5 at Churchill Downs and showing trainer Larry Jones that he handles the surface.
Jones was concerned that Hard Spun might not take to the Churchill surface after the colt showed a dislike for the surface at Oaklawn Park when finishing fourth as the beaten favorite in the Southwest Stakes.
“The work was as perfect as we could have hoped for,” Jones said. “As of right now, we are Derby bound. He handled the track very well, and Larry (jockey Melancon) came back and said he didn’t think he worked anywhere near as fast as he did, because he was doing everything so easily. In fact, he was a little concerned he had gone too slow. By not knowing the horse, and not knowing what kind of work horse he was, he said he never really picked the bit up a lot. But when he came back and saw how fast he had worked he was really impressed.
“The main thing is, he came back to the barn and recouped very fast. Within 10 minutes, his breathing was normal and he drank maybe a gallon of water at the most. It was a wonderful work and a wonderful way to come back from it.”
Hard Spun's fractions were :12 2/5, :23 4/5, :35 2/5, :47 3/5, galloping out six furlongs in 1:13 3/5.
Hard Spun, by passing up Saturday’s Toyotal Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), will now go into the Kentucky Derby off a six-week layoff and without having faced any of the leading Derby contenders.
“The Blue Grass was coming up so tough, it looked like a horse could leave his Derby out there on the track, having run so hard to try to win it,” Jones said. “The horse coming out of it second or third might be in better shape, but you go in there trying to win; we weren’t going in there to run third. The way his numbers are progressing, going up with every race, we really feel like we’re sitting in range of a Derby-winning number now. If he improves this time like he has in his other races, we feel he’ll be ready to run the best race of his life, and we just did not want to gamble on leaving it there in the Blue Grass.”
As far going into the Derby without having run against a top Derby horse, Jones said, “We may as well just test them right there in the Derby. Even though he was beaten at Oaklawn and didn’t like the racetrack, he still came out of the race with the best Ragozin number of any horse in the race by far. To be honest, I don’t want to sound overconfident, because I’m not. But if this horse likes the racetrack, that’s all I’m asking for. We’ll take on the competition. I just want him on a surface he’s OK with. That was more of a concern for us than not having faced the heavy heads.”
Jones said Hard Spun will head back to Keeneland, where he is currently stabled, and return to Churchill for good about a week before the Derby. The son of Danzig likely will have a mile work at Keeneland next weekend and then have his final work at Churchill the following weekend.