07/20/2003 11:00PM

Reversal of fortune takes pressure off Harty


DEL MAR, Calif. - After dazzling seasons with the likes of Imperial Gesture, Street Cry, and Eclipse Award winner Tempera to kick off his association with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, trainer Eoin Harty had a thoroughly forgettable 2002. Most of his runners took ill, he went winless at Del Mar while sending out just six starters, and by season's end, his horses were sent back to winter quarters in Dubai without an attempt at the Breeders' Cup.

So far, 2003 has been a return to the lofty heights expected from Harty when he agreed to leave as trainer Bob Baffert's top assistant and strike up an association with the Maktoum family of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Harty comes into Wednesday's opening day at Del Mar already having won 12 races this year and sporting a strike rate of 35 percent. "I don't think we won 12 races all last year," Harty said. "The horses who have won have taken some heat off the program. It's not like last year where I was going, 'Please God, just let me get a win.' There's not as much pressure."

Harty has several talented 2-year-olds, including Tizdubai, a full sister to both Tiznow - the 2000 Horse of the Year - and Budroyale who won her lone start at Hollywood Park. And for the first time, Harty's stable does not comprise exclusively 2-year-olds. He has some 3- and 4-year-olds, too, a mix that promises to keep his barn in action far more often this summer. Some of the 3-year-olds are horses Harty trained last year at age 2 who either did not run or had abbreviated campaigns. The 4-year-olds are imports from Europe. All are racing under the banner of Sheik Mohammed's Darley Stud Management.

"We don't have 35 horses all with the same conditions," Harty said. "We've got all kinds of horses. We're trying to spread the wealth."

Wednesday's opening-day card offers a prime example of Harty's new-look barn. In the third race, he will send out the highly regarded 2-year-old colt Rosberg, a $1.5 million yearling purchase who is by A.P. Indy and is out of the high-class mare Bosra Sham. Then in the seventh race, Harty will run the 3-year-old Storm Cat colt T S Eliot, who is making his first start since a 6 1/2-length debut victory more than 13 months ago at Bay Meadows.

Rosberg was out on the track Monday morning at Del Mar, his training being supervised by Alex Hassinger, who joined Harty's team late last year. An attractive dark bay colt with a narrow blaze down his face, Rosberg galloped smoothly after acting erratically when he first jogged clockwise toward the finish line.

Harty said his other top prospects this summer should be Flushing Meadows, a Grand Slam colt; Fremont, a colt by Seattle Slew; and Possession, a filly by Belong to Me. Two others - the colt Ruler's Court and the filly Tizdubai - have previously raced and shown promise, too.

Ruler's Court was third as the odds-on favorite in last Saturday's Hollywood Juvenile Championship. Hassinger said Ruler's Court came out of the race "scraped up," with some nicks on his hocks.

"The inside horse came out and took him out a ways," Hassinger said. "We don't want to use that as an excuse. He got beat. But it didn't help. We think he's a better horse than that."

Tizdubai overcame a troubled trip to win first time out. She is a California-bred, and thus is eligible to and was nominated for Friday's $125,000 California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Stakes. But she may bypass that race and await the $150,000 Sorrento Stakes, a Grade 2 race on Aug. 9.

"She could be any kind," Harty said. "Her race was pretty impressive. It was the way she did it, rather than the time. She had every right to get beat, but she didn't."

Harty has a full barn at Del Mar. He also has runners at Arlington Park, with assistant David Duggan. Harty said he goes to Chicago "about every two weeks for three or four days."

Duggan has been with Harty from the start, dating back more than three years. Hassinger is the newest assistant to Harty's team, but he has a top-class resume. While training on his own, Hassinger trained champions Anees and Eliza. Last year, he was an assistant to Laura de Seroux, who trained 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri.

"He's a quality guy. He's got great management skills. And we think a lot alike," Harty said of Hassinger. "We've been friends a long time. When I leave town I can rest assured things will be run they way I want them run."

So far this year, they have been running right to the winner's circle.