Flashback: Hard Spun proves his worth in 2007 Lecomte Stakes

By Keeler Johnson/Special to HRN
January 14, 2020 09:30am

It happens all the time. An exciting 2-year-old dominates his rivals on a small racing circuit, then falters when stepping up against tougher competition. Head to a bigger pond, and you’re bound to meet some bigger fish.

During the final three months of 2006, an exciting son of Danzig emerged at Delaware Park, far from the top circuits in California, Kentucky and New York. Bred in Pennsylvania, this bold bay colt won his debut on Oct. 22 with eye-catching ease, setting a fast pace before cruising home in front by 8 3/4 lengths. He followed up with similarly decisive victories in Delaware’s Port Penn Stakes and the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes at Parx Racing.

Three starts, three victories by a combined 21 1/2 lengths, all against easy company at smaller tracks. This colt could have come crashing down to earth as soon as he stepped up in class. But as it turned out, Hard Spun was genuinely big fish regardless of where he swam.

Owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farms knew the stakes were high when trainer Larry Jones sent Hard Spun to contest the 2007 Lecomte Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds. For the first time, Hard Spun would face serious competition with an eye toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. Already Porter had received numerous offers from owners and agents hoping to purchase Hard Spun, but Porter had resisted the temptation to sell.

“It’s hard to get a really good horse,” Porter told The Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Mike Jensen for a story published on Jan. 12, 2007. “Am I tempted [to sell]? I think about it… I think if I were to sell him before he raced again, I’m confident that he’s worth more than a couple of million dollars."

FOR MORE: Check out other HRN race flashbacks

But with racing comes risks. “He might be worth nothing after Saturday,” added Porter. “One bad race and nobody’s interested anymore. That’s the problem. You hold your breath every race. If [Hard Spun] doesn’t run good, all your dreams are shot.”

Porter held on to Hard Spun and rolled the dice.

Half a dozen rivals turned out to challenge him in the Lecomte, including stakes winner and future Kentucky Derby starter Teuflesberg. But bettors paid no mind to Hard Spun’s jump up the class ladder, establishing the flashy front-runner as the even-money favorite.

Even odds of 1-5 would have been fair.

The Lecomte Stakes never had a moment of drama. With regular rider Mario Pino in the saddle, Hard Spun went straight to the lead and spent six furlongs humoring the stakes-placed Izzie’s Humor and Teuflesberg. The pace was solid, if not overly testing for the one-mile distance, with Hard Spun carving out splits of :23.76, :46.76, and 1:11.10 while striding along comfortably on the front end.

Teuflesberg ranged up alongside on the far turn, and for just a moment it appeared the two colts were poised for a battle down the homestretch. But then Pino glanced back and casually asked Hard Spun to accelerate. In the blink of an eye, the race was over.

Spinning into the stretch, Hard Spun opened up a daylight lead over his pursuers. Izzie’s Halo and Teuflesberg tried to keep pace, but it was a hopeless task. Hard Spun seemingly never hit his highest gear as Pino hand-urged him down the lane, yet the favorite still extended his advantage to 6 1/2 lengths at the finish line.

“He beat them just like he did the others,” Larry Jones told Jensen in The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It looks like he steps his game up.”

Hard Spun continued that trend throughout the year. By the time he retired at the end of 2007, he counted victories in the King’s Bishop Stakes (G1), Kentucky Cup Classic (G2) and Lane’s End Stakes (G2) on his decorated resume, along with runner-up efforts in the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Haskell Invitational (G1).

In short, Hard Spun danced every dance, earned $2,673,470, and successfully battled the biggest fish of his generation, a stellar crop that included two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile/Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. Hard Spun remains in the headlines as an influential stallion, with champion Questing and Breeders’ Cup winner Spun to Run among his best foals.

It’s safe to say Rick Porter made the right decision by hanging on to him.

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. You can follow him on Twitter at @J_Keelerman.

 

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