03/27/2003 12:00AM

Handicap field can breathe a little easier

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Hero's Tribute finished a well-beaten second behind Harlan's Holiday in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 22. Both horses will be back in action Saturday for the first time since that race.

Fortunately for trainer John Ward Jr., Harlan's Holiday will be in Dubai for the World Cup when Hero's Tribute faces eight rivals in the Grade 2, $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap.

"Timing is everything," Ward said. "It's always good when the horse who beat you last time is racing 2,000 miles away the next time you run."

With Harlan's Holiday in Dubai, Hero's Tribute will be the likely favorite in the 1 1/4-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap, based on his consistent record and second-place finish in the Donn.

"He's progressing with every start," said Ward, who trains Hero's Tribute for his principal client, John Oxley. "Last time he got beat by a very good horse."

Edgar Prado will again ride Hero's Tribute, who has earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in each of his last eight starts, including a near-career-best 109 for his performance in the Donn.

Like Ward, trainer Allen Jerkens is also delighted that Harlan's Holiday will be in Dubai on Saturday. Jerkens will saddle Puzzlement, a late-striding third in the Donn, for the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Last year, Puzzlement faced Grade 1 competition in the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup when he tried this distance for the first two times.

He earned a career-high Beyer Figure of 106 in the Donn and appears to be coming into the Gulfstream Park Handicap in the best form of his career.

"He'll handle the distance. I just hope he can handle the competition," said Jerkens, who won this race with Sensitive Prince in 1979 and Devil His Due in 1993.

Jerkens will need an honest pace for Puzzlement to win, and that will likely be provided by Generous Rosi, who could prove to be dangerous if he is left alone too long on the lead.

Generous Rosi finished a well-beaten second behind Aptitude after setting a rapid pace going 1 1/4 miles in the 2001 Jockey Club Gold Cup. He was also second, beaten a neck, after leading throughout in the Grade 2 Washington Park Handicap last fall.

The Judge Sez Who will be the highweight under 117 pounds in the Handicap, his first start since he finished fourth in the Sunshine Millions Classic here on Jan. 25.

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