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Graham Starts ‘Old Fox Hunter’ Hardest Core in Man o’ War

Graham Starts ‘Old Fox Hunter’ Hardest Core in Man o’ War: One of the great stories from last year was Hardest Core winning the GI Arlington Million over 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf champion Magician. Bettors did not expect Hardest Core to win, mainly because of where the connections chose to start his 2014 season. He began with victories at Philadelphia Park (Parx) and Delaware Park. Neither of those wins were graded stakes races. Meanwhile, after winning the Breeders’ Cup race at Santa Anita, Magician had competed at prestigious racetracks around the world including Ascot and Meydan Racecourse.

Hardest Core Man o' War Stakes 2015

The last time Hardest Core (pictured far right in teal #9) competed, he contested the pace in the 2014 GI Breeders’ Cup Turf and paid the price, finishing eighth.
Breeders’ Cup Photo ©

Hardest Core begins his new campaign in a much tougher spot than those ungraded stakes races at Parx and Delaware. He starts in the 1 3/8 mile GI Man o’ War Stakes at Belmont Park on turf, scheduled for this Saturday. Ironically, Man o’ War ran as a dirt horse during his legendary career, but that is a topic for another article.

The last time Hardest Core competed, he contested the pace in last year’s GI Breeders’ Cup Turf and paid the price, finishing eighth. Trainer Eddie Graham recently spoke on the phone and believes the trip cost his gelding a few spots. Hardest Core sat outside of initial pacesetters Imagining and Starspangled Heat, then opened up with the lead early while racing wide. After the slightly premature move, Hardest Core kept leading until the far turn.

“It didn’t go as planned,” Graham explained. “I wanted him covered up and he never got covered up. I never wanted him to be there.”

During the Arlington Million, Hardest Core received the “covered up” trip that Graham desires. He saved ground on the inside and tipped out for the finish, which is perfect for a stalking turf horse. To win the Man o’ War, Hardest Core needs a better trip and must overcome a significant layoff. Graham realizes the challenge of coming off a lengthy break.

“He might come up short,” admitted Graham.

The race entries offer some notable names. Imagining shows up again. Twilight Eclipse, a regular punching bag for Main Sequence, might find that foe’s absence to his liking. Dynamic Sky is a hard-trying sort that tends to appear in various big races. War Dancer once held promise. None of them can boast the Arlington Million on their list of wins.

If Hardest Core comes out of the race okay, Graham hopes to plot a similar path and aim for the Arlington Million and Breeders’ Cup Turf again.

“We would like to,” he said. “The horse will tell me how he’s doing.”

Although bettors were surprised by Hardest Core’s ascension in the turf ranks, Graham always thought highly of him when Andrew Bentley Stables entrusted their acquired horse with his training. Hardest Core previously ran for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and displayed talent earlier in his career overcoming slow paced turf races. Despite the confidence, his shot at the Arlington Million almost did not happen, as they entered the American St. Leger as well.

“We always thought he was a nice horse,” Graham said. “He was getting bigger and stronger, so I thought ‘let’s give him a chance.’”

When asked about the difference between bringing a turf horse back from a layoff compared to a dirt one, he did not have an answer without any dirt horses in his stable. Graham trains a selection of flat turf and steeplechase runners. He explained a few differences between the two types.

“Steeplechase horses are more steady than flat horses,” Graham said. “They do more in training, such as galloping on hills.”

Interestingly, Hardest Core trains on hills too and that helps his endurance. Graham compared Hardest Core to an “old fox hunter,” which makes sense because consideration was given to running him in steeplechase events. They saw the gelding still had potential on the flats, and Hardest Core backed their decision to remain in flat races by turning into a top turf horse.

With a low profile conditioner and enthusiastic owner, the horse seems in good hands. Nothing is wrong with running for a larger operation, but some horses thrive under a small stable. For those wishing to see more Hardest Core pictures, check out the trainer’s official Facebook Page. Lastly, no matter his role now, or future career, at the end of the day Hardest Core enjoys a good snack.

“He likes those treat cookies for horses,” Graham noted.

Related Links:
Peter Pan Stakes 2015

Man o’ War Stakes 2015 Post Positions & Odds
Race 9 5:28 PM ET
1 Imagining 9-5 Ortiz, Jr./McGaughey III
2 Hyper 10-1 Velazquez/Brown
3 War Dancer 12-1 Lezcano/Mott
4 Twilight Eclipse 3-1 Castellano/Albertrani
5 Comes the Dream 30-1 Alvarado/Weaver
6 Hardest Core 4-1 Saez/Graham
7 Dynamic Sky 5-1 Velasquez/Casse

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