01/21/2003 12:00AM

'Guns' primed to fire his best shot

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - This Guns for Hire proved he was stakes caliber by finishing third in the Grade 2 Pegasus Handicap at The Meadowlands last fall. But before trainer John Terranova considers another stakes, he would like to see This Guns for Hire win a second-level allowance race, such as Thursday's feature at Gulfstream Park.

This Guns for Hire failed in his first try against similar competition earlier in the meet, finishing a tiring third after contesting the pace into the stretch. It was the first start for This Guns for Hire since he was beaten a neck in Laurel's Northern Dancer Stakes six weeks earlier.

"I kind of went a little easy on him after he shipped down to Florida, probably didn't train him hard enough for that last race, and he just got a little tired on us," said Terranova. "But he got plenty out of it and I've breezed him again since that start so he should be 100 percent tight now."

This Guns for Hire needed seven starts to finally win his maiden at Saratoga on Aug. 1 but took only another 27 days to capture his first-level allowance condition. Those performances earned him a start in the Pegasus, in which he contested the pace into the stretch before finishing a tiring third behind Regal Sanction.

"He was a late-maturing type. I'm still learning about this horse but I think he can become a stakes winner this year," said Terranova.

This Guns for Hire has always done his best running on the lead. He figures to get an early challenge from the two horses breaking to his outside in the nine-horse field, Wild Years and Drink a Toast.

"He can relax and rate, or stalk if he has to," said Terranova. "I'll leave that decision up to Jerry [Bailey]."

Like This Guns for Hire, Wild Years has taken a while to come around. Wild Years missed his 2-year-old campaign and started just four times at 3 and three times at 4. He won his maiden by 22 lengths at Belmont in 2001 but has been away five months since his third-place finish as the 4-5 favorite at Saratoga.

If This Guns for Hire and Wild Years look one another in the eye long enough on the front end they could set up the race for Gold Tango or Doc Wild.

Gold Tango has won back-to-back races against weaker competition. The well-traveled Doc Wild has finished second in each of his last three starts at three different tracks.

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