02/29/2012 2:36PM

Gulfstream Park: Harbor Breeze back in form

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Harbor Breeze was a major disappointment here last winter for trainer Tim Hills. One year later, the son of Rockport Harbor is one of the more promising horses in the barn and likely the one to catch in Friday’s $53,500 allowance feature at Gulfstream Park. The 6 1/2-furlong sprint is for 3-year-olds and up.

Harbor Breeze was never a factor in his three starts here last year, two of which came under a claiming tag and one on the grass. But since returning to action in October at Monmouth Park, Harbor Breeze has not finished off the board in four starts, including a maiden special weight win in his most recent appearance on Feb. 1 here.

“He trained well when he got here last winter but got body sore and a little sour and we probably ran him a time or two too many,” said Hills. “We finally stopped on him and started all over again, and he’s just a different horse this year. He’s the kind of horse who trains hard and runs hard, and it’s just a pleasure to see him come back and become the horse we thought he could be originally.”

Harbor Breeze will face five rivals on Friday, including Ninja Blade, who beat him more than three lengths when the pair first met on Dec. 10.

“Back then, I don’t think we could have beaten that horse anyway, anyhow, especially the way that race shaped up,” said Hills. “But our horse has definitely shown he’s improved since their last meeting, especially as game as he ran last time. That’s just what I like to see.”

Harbor Breeze breaks from the rail for the second straight start under Julien Leparoux. Ninja Blade has been ridden by Leparoux in five of his seven races and will reunite Friday with Javier Castellano, who guided him to a maiden win on Dec. 10. Ninja Blade, who was second in his first five starts, looks to rebound from a third-place finish as the 4-5 favorite going six furlongs in his 2012 debut.

Self Control figures to be coming on strongest of all down the stretch, turning back in distance off a series of longer races. Self Control, who’ll wear blinkers for the first time, has finished second in both tries at the meet, both at a mile.

Red Ace shipped across country and was transferred from trainer Bob Baffert to Wayne Catalano not long after finishing 10th at Santa Anita on Feb. 4. Red Ace disiplayed an affinity for the local surface along with a high turn of speed when working a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.43 here on Feb. 23.