Hard Spun, a son of Danzig, is headed for a stud career at Darley at the end of the year, so the grade I was a big step for the Fox Hill Farm runner. The Pennsylvania-bred ended a four-race losing streak, cutting back to seven furlongs in the King's Bishop for Jones and winning for the first time since taking the Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) on the Turfway Park Polytrack in March.
"It’s very important for his stallion career to have the grade 1 under him," Jones said. "This is a very important race for making stallions, and that was one reason we looked at it."
Ridden by Mario Pino, Hard Spun was forwardly placed in second behind the pacesetter Spin Master, who clicked off hot fractions of :21 4/5 and :44 1/5. Rounding the turn, Hard Spun poked his head in front. Hard Spun held the lead in upper stretch but could not shake loose of First Defence and Javier Castellano, who followed Hard Spun into the lane and soon drew even. First Defence appeared to get the lead at the eighth pole, but under brisk left-handed urging from Pino, Hard Spun came back and drew off in the final 70 yards to win by 1 1/2 lengths. The winning time for the seven panels was 1:22 1/5.
"He’s handled whatever we’ve thrown at him," Jones said. "He keeps his undefeated record going around one turn. This race came up very tough. I was worried about the pace, but he was keeping up with it very easy. I’ve seen him run these fractions before, when he was a younger horse and not nearly as strong as he is now, so I felt pretty good about that. He was bound and determined."
Jones says the ultimate goal remains the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) at Monmouth Oct. 27.
"We’re still looking for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. We decided to go into it gaining distance. We know he can get a mile and a quarter. We’ll look for a mile or a mile and an eighth race between now and the Classic.”
California invader E Z Warrior, the Bob Baffert trainee ridden by David Flores, closed to finish a distant third, 4 1/4 lengths behind First Defence, while second-choice Teuflesberg settled for a non-threatening fourth.
Hard Spun, out of Turkoman mare Turkish Tryst, was competitive in all three Triple Crown races, finishing second in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum (!) Brands (gr. I), third in the Preakness (gr. I) and fourth in the Belmont (gr. I).
Regular rider Pino, who lost the mount in the Belmont after a questioned ride in the Preakness, was back aboard when Hard Spun returned from a two-month layoff to finish second behind Any Given Saturday in the Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I) at Monmouth Park earlier this month.
“He got to loafing when he made the lead, and I started to worry," Pino said. "As soon as he felt First Defence next to him, he switched leads and his class came out. That horse made a quick run at him, and it took him a little bit to get going turning for home, but once he leveled off, he went to the wire with his ears up. It’s 95 degrees and he didn’t even take a deep breath. He wasn’t laboring, he was just looking for competition.”
Hard Spun has won both his starts at seven furlongs and is undefeated in four lifetime sprints. Overall, the bay is 6-2-1 in 11 starts with earnings of $1,393,470.
He paid $4.60, $3.50 and $2.60.
First Defence, making his grade stakes debut returned $6.30 and $4.60.
"He ran hard and he actually got a head in front," trainer Bobby Frankel said of First Defence, winner of Monmouth's Long Branch Breeders' Cup in his last start. "But experience got us beat today. He put in a good performance and I was happy with him.”
E Z Warrior, who won the first three races of his career, was $7.10 to show.Teuflesberg was followed by Most Distinguished, Bold Start, King of the Roxy, Longley, Pauillac, Forty Grams and Spin Master.