09/24/2002 12:00AM

This Guns For Hire gets stakes shot in Pegasus

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This Guns For Hire, never off the board in eight lifetime starts, deserves a shot at the big time, according to his trainer, John Terranova, and he will get it Friday night in the Grade 2, $350,000 Pegasus Handicap at The Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.

"It's just pretty much the next logical step for him," Terranova said. "He's just a nice horse, up-and-coming, and I think he's got a lot of talent."

This Guns For Hire made seven starts as a maiden, finishing second four times and third twice before his breakthrough win in a field of 11 at Saratoga Aug. 1. He came back three weeks later and won a first-level allowance by two lengths. His last two Beyer Speed Figures, 96 and 94, are his best.

Harlan's Holiday, the Florida Derby and Blue Grass winner and beaten Kentucky Derby favorite, is the 122-pound Pegasus highweight. He took a break after finishing fourth in the Preakness, and then returned Sept. 2 with a 4 1/2-length win in the Pennsylvania Derby.

Trainer Todd Pletcher cross-entered Harlan's Holiday in the Pegasus and the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Saturday, but said Tuesday he is leaning toward the Pegasus.

Make the Bend, beaten 7 3/4 lengths by Harlan's Holiday Sept. 2, is a probable for the Pegasus, as are Excited, Smoked Em, Regal Sanction, and Trump Marina, a 9 1/2-length winner in the $50,000 Paterson last out.

The Grade 2, $400,000 Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 4 also is attracting a Terranova runner - last year's winner, Gander. Two weeks ago, after Gander ran a game second to Lido Palace in the Grade 1 Woodward, Terranova thought he would run Gander next in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. But Gander came down with a slight fever, missed about five days of training, and the setback was enough to rethink the plan.

"The Gold Cup would have been too much to ask," Terranova said. In addition to the Meadowlands Cup, Terranova is considering the Empire Classic on Oct. 19 at Belmont.

Other Meadowlands Cup probables are Bowman's Band, Windsor Castle, Burning Roma, Cat's at Home, and Volponi.