STANTON, Del. - Hard Spun has unusually long legs and a sleek body, leading trainer Larry Jones to initially dismiss the horse's chances as a Triple Crown contender.
Much to his delight, Jones was way off the mark.
"The most amazing thing we found is ... just how fast this horse is," he recalled Tuesday. "It was kind of a shock. I wondered if he would be able to go long at all, but every race we stretched the distance, his numbers have gotten better."
Racing 1Â¼ miles for the first time on May 5, Hard Spun finished second in the Kentucky Derby, his first Grade 1 test. Now, to the dismay of owner Rick Porter, Hard Spun is considered one of the favorites in Saturday's Preakness.
"The only thing that worries me is everyone's too high on the horse, thinking that everything's setting up perfectly for him in the Preakness," Porter said. "We have a lot of work to do to win this race. We've got some good horses to beat. That's what worries me because I like to be the underdog."
If he were to be judged on his personality, Hard Spun might be considered a long shot. If it were up to Hard Spun, he'd probably be walking on a worn path with a stranger on his back.
"He's just an extremely nice horse. There's not an aggressive bone in his body," Jones said. "The other riders that see us, they say, ‘That's Hard Spun?' They can't believe it. I told them, in his next career, he thinks he's going to be a trail-riding horse. He's almost people!"
Hard Spun has had very little time to socialize this week while nestled in Stall 50 of Barn 8 at Delaware Park. Given the attention he received before the Derby, a little quiet time is probably a good thing.
"The only time he's in a bad mood is from 11 o'clock to 3 o'clock, when it's his nap time and people won't leave him alone," Jones said. "Other than that, you can take him on a picnic with you and he'll be happy."
Jockey Mario Pino derives the most pleasure from guiding Hard Spun around the track. Pino has been aboard nearly 6,000 winners during his 29-year career, yet no horse has impressed him as much as Hard Spun.
Pino got a sense of the colt's potential last fall on the practice track. Then, in the horse's debut last October, Hard Spun cruised to an impressive win over 5Â½ furlongs at Delaware Park.
"His first time out, it was awesome. I remember thinking I've never been on a horse that felt like this," Pino said. "I called my wife right after the race and said, ‘If ever there's a Derby horse, this is him.'"
Riding in his first Kentucky Derby, Pino led for much of the race before Street Sense roared from behind to win.
"In the Derby, we somewhat caught them off guard with the quality of our horse. ... I think we got the attention of about 18 of those horses," Jones said.