06/04/2008 11:00PM

Hal's My Hope tries to regain form

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MIAMI - A year ago at this time, Hal's My Hope was considered to be among the top 3-year-olds stabled in south Florida, and even held his own on a national level in graded stakes such as the Peter Pan and Barbaro. Back then, he would have been the odds-on favorite in a third-level optional claiming and allowance race such as Saturday's $21,000 feature at Calder.

But after battling a stomach ailment for nearly six months, Hal's My Hope is anything but a cinch in the mile and 70-yard headliner on a 13-race program that begins at the special post time of 12:25 p.m.

Hal's My Hope vaulted to prominence in the winter of 2007 after beating a strong field of first-level allowance horses at odds of 100-1 at Gulfstream Park. After Hal's My Hope finished a good fifth behind Scat Daddy in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, trainer Harold Rose earmarked the Grade 1 Florida Derby for his next start, but had to forgo those plans when his horse got sick in the weeks leading up to the race.

"There was some coughing going around my barn at the time and he came down with it, so we had to skip the Florida Derby," said Rose.

Hal's My Hope recuperated quickly enough to dominate Calder's Unbridled Stakes by a dozen lengths in his next start, earning him a trip to New York for the Peter Pan, where he finished fourth behind Sightseeing after setting a contested pace.

"He ran well in the Peter Pan and the Barbaro, after which we tried a turf experiment which failed," said Rose. "Then he came down with a stomach problem that took us a long time to get under control. Fortunately the problem wasn't with any of his running parts, which is why I'm confident he'll eventually come back as good as he ever was once we can get him fit enough this summer."

Saturday will mark Hal's My Hope's second start on the comeback trail. He finished a badly beaten sixth in the Memorial Day Handicap on May 26.

"He was really short for his last race," said Rose. "I believe in racing a horse fit rather than training them too hard. I'm hoping this time he'll have enough wind to carry him through this race, although it will probably take a couple of more starts to get him back to his top form."

With Hal's My Hope's current form suspect, Saturday's feature could come down to a rematch between Alarming Afleet and Bridled Quest, who finished first and second in an optional claimer on May 15. Another contender is Zoobstick, who exits a pair of fifth-place finishes against stakes company.

Alarming Afleet couldn't have been gamer when fending off several challenges on the lead before holding off a late surge by Bridled Quest, who has now finished second in his last two starts.

Zoobstick chased the early pace before finishing nine lengths behind Aly's Wheat in the Blazing Sword Stakes, a race switched from turf to a sloppy main track. Zoobstick was a stakes winner at 3, capturing the American Dreamer overnight stakes in mid-August for owner-trainer Jerry Bozzo.