02/06/2006 1:00AM

Harlington preps for stakes


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - This time last winter, Harlington was among trainer Todd Pletcher's top Kentucky Derby prospects. But an ankle injury put an end to those dreams before they really got too far off the ground.

On Wednesday, will continue his comeback when he goes off as the solid choice against nine rivals in a third-level optional claiming and allowance race at Gulfstream Park. The race offers a $37,000 purse and is carded at 1 1/8 miles.

A son of Unbridled and champion mare Serena's Song, Harlington was a $2.8 million yearling. He won his first two career starts, including an entry-level allowance race by three lengths last January. That performance and his regal bloodlines made Harlington the 6-5 favorite one month later in the Grade 3 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, but following a sixth-place finish, Pletcher was forced to send Harlington to the sidelines for nearly 10 months.

"He was a classic type horse who was just starting to figure things out when he got hurt and had to undergo minor ankle surgery," said Pletcher.

Harlington returned from his long layoff to trounce a field of second-level allowance horses by five lengths going 1 1/16 miles at Aqueduct on Dec. 4. He has continued to work steadily at Palm Meadows training center for his return to Gulfstream.

"He's a classic two-turn horse, and the further he goes, the better he likes it," said Pletcher, who trains Harlington for the Melnyk Racing Stable. "I don't think I had him fully cranked up for his last start, but I really wanted to get a race into him before bringing him down for the winter."

Pletcher said that if all goes well Wednesday, Harlington could come back in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap at 1 3/16 miles on March 4.

Harlington should get a legitimate pace to run at with Ricardo A, Mighty Mecke, and Tinseltown all likely to show early speed.

A 7-year-old trained by Bill Perry, Ricardo A has already won at this level before, but an optional claiming clause in the conditions for Wednesday's feature will allow him to run. Ricardo A is a stakes winner, having captured the Alysheba Stakes at The Meadowlands on Oct 29.

is also a stakes winner, having won a restricted event over the Belmont Park turf course last spring. He comes off a fifth-place finish in the Pete Axthelm on the turf at Calder on Dec. 31. Tinseltown's chances improve on a wet track.

comes off a fifth-place finish in a three-other-than allowance on the turf Jan. 21, when he made his grass debut.

Electric Light scored a 7 1/4-length win in a second-level allowance at Calder in his 3-year-old finale Dec. 24.