Fox Hill Farms' Hard Spun regained his status as a leading Triple Crown contender with a powerful win in the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds on Turfway Park's all-weather track Saturday.
With regular rider Mario Pino aboard, Hard Spun, prompting the pace while three wide, took the lead on the far turn and assumed command in the stretch. Under steady urging, the Danzig colt edged away through the lane to register a 3 1/4-length victory over Sedgefield. It was 3 1/4 lengths farther back to Joe Got Even, who rallied from last after a half-mile to loom as a danger before flattening out in the stretch.
The final time for the 1 1/8-mile event was a strong 1:49 2/5.
Winning trainer Larry Jones said Hard Spun probably will run in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) on the synthetic track at Keeneland in three weeks.
"He seems to like Polytrack and Keeneland is almost like home," Jones said. "We definitely want one more prep."
The Pennsylvania-bred Hard Spun won his first four starts by a combined 28 lengths before faltering in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in his last start, when he finished fourth as the 1-2 favorite. Jones abandoned the Arkansas route to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) after that.
"The plan for this race went perfect," said Richard Porter, owner of Fox Hill Farms. "We found that he loves this track and the race set up nice for him. We were getting a lot of hype early on and stumbled but picked ourselves back up today."
Hard Spun's return Saturday was compromised by the 10 post, creating a dilemma for Pino, who usually likes to take the bay colt to the lead.
As it worked out, 55-1 shot Starbase gained the early lead along the inside with Bullara, who broke best, pressing the pacesetter through solid fractions of :22 3/5, :47 1/5 and 1:11 3/5. Hard Spun gave away nothing while racing a close third on the outside. He drew alongside his rivals on the turn and kept the pressure on until gaining control coming off the turn.
"This horse will do anything you want him to do," Jones said. "I could tell he was wanting to run but he listened for Mario to ask him. He makes more money than Mario and I, but he'll still listen to us. He's very coachable. My only concern with the Blue Grass is that it could be suicide with so many good horses going in the race. You know me. I worry about everything. I wouldn't be overly confident going into that race, but it's a good feeling to know our horse could compete with those horses."
Sedgefield, racing mid-pack for Rafael Bejarano on the far outside, moved within striking distance on the outside of Hard Spun but could not keep up in the stretch. Joe Got Even came with a big run for Miguel Mena but was hung out six wide on the turn and could not sustain his bid.
Twilight Meteor, the slight 5-2 choice over Hard Spun, had a good position going into the stretch for Edgar Prado but had no rally and finished sixth.
Hard Spun, who won the Le Comte (gr. III) at Fair Grounds prior to his loss at Oaklawn, improved to five wins in six tries with earnings of $473,470. Michael Moran and Brushwood Stable bred the winner, who is out of Turkish Tryst, by Turkoman.
He paid $7.20, $4.60, and $4.80. Sedgefield, who broke his maiden at Turfway in December, was saddled with the far outside post in the 12-horse field and turned in a good effort while returning $11.20 and $6. The exacta paid $96.60. Joe Got Even, never out of the money in five starts on the Turfway Polytrack surface, was $6.80 to show.
It was 3 1/4 lengths back to For You Reppo in fourth, followed by Starbase, Twilight Meteor, Highest Degree, Sports Town, Approval Rating, Bullara, Helios, and Forefathers.