01/05/2006 1:00AM

Harty brings his Darley horses east

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Eoin Harty has about 25 horses in Florida.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Eoin Harty has made a career of being a team player. Having worked as an assistant under Bob Baffert during the 1990's glory years of Silver Charm and Real Quiet, Harty was hired six years ago by Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum to help him retain his stature as the world's foremost racehorse owner.

Harty has worked primarily in Southern California and Dubai for Sheikh Mohammed, the owner of Godolphin and Darley stables, but the 2006 Gulfstream Park meet signals a subtle shift in policy. Sheikh Mohammed essentially has pulled out of California, and Harty, for the first time, has brought a sizable string to the Palm Meadows training center to compete at Gulfstream.

"Sheikh Mohammed doesn't want to run on the West Coast any more," Harty said Thursday from Santa Anita. "I have 25 horses here, but just a couple left for Darley. The 25 we have in Florida are almost all for Darley."

Harty will attempt to start making his stable's presence felt Saturday when he runs Barcola in the first race in Gulfstream's annual Florida Derby series for 3-year-olds, the $125,000 Aventura Stakes. Barcola, Armament, and Barbican - each a maiden winner at Calder in his last start - form a three-horse Darley contingent nominated to the series.

Barcola, by Old Trieste, was soundly beaten at Belmont, then Delaware, before finishing fourth in his third start on Nov. 11 at Churchill Downs. He finally broke through with a 10 1/2-length triumph racing a mile on Nov. 26, earning an 80 Beyer Speed Figure.

Harty said he is "hoping it's maturity" that took Barcola to that latest win. "He is improving with every race," Harty added. "We're going into Saturday cautiously optimistic. Obviously, you want to see a young horse like him keep making progress."

Armament, by Mr. Greeley, and Barbican, by A.P. Indy, each recently won his second start. Armament won at six furlongs, getting a 79 Beyer, and Barbican won at seven furlongs, getting a 92. Harty said both horses will run next in an entry-level allowance at Gulfstream, with Armament going short and Barbican going long.

He said Barcola, with four starts, "has a little more seasoning" than the other two and therefore got the nod to run in the Aventura.

Glib and affable, Harty, 43, is a fifth-generation horseman who moved to the United States from his native Ireland at age 17. He worked his way into assistant positions with John Russell and Baffert before Godolphin officials approached him at the 1999 Breeders' Cup at Gulfstream about training many of the stable's younger horses.

Harty accepted, and it did not take him long to make an impact. While spending his winters in Dubai and the balance of the year in the U.S., he saddled the one-two finishers for Godolphin in the 2001 BC Juvenile Fillies, Tempera and Imperial Gesture, and also was highly instrumental in the development of such standouts as Street Cry, Ruler's Court, E Dubai, and Essence of Dubai.

This is the third year Harty has stayed Stateside for the winter while sending his best young prospects back to Dubai to Godolphin's primary trainer, Saeed bin Suroor. Harty said he has been splitting his time between California and Florida since opening his Palm Meadows stable in early November, and has hired Brian Ange to oversee the Florida string during his absences. Ange has worked for several top horsemen, including Pat Byrne, Christophe Clement, and the late Allen Paulson.

Harty said the stable will be plenty active at Gulfstream, which runs through April 23. "I've got a lot of horses with conditions, and not many maidens," said Harty. "I've got quite a few older horses and fillies ready to go."

True to his team-oriented mentality, Harty said: "If those horses cut it in south Florida in the winter, then in the spring they will be shipped up to Tom Albertrani and Kiaran McLaughlin in New York. We kind of rotate them out like that."