03/25/2003 12:00AM

Tough task for This Guns for Hire

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - This Guns for Hire is among the nominees but will not participate in Saturday's Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. Instead, he will likely have his hands full winning a $40,000, second-level allowance race at nine furlongs that serves as the main event on Thursday's nine-race program at Gulfstream Park.

This Guns for Hire proved to be graded stakes caliber after finishing third in the Grade 2 Pegasus Handicap and fifth in the Grade 3 Discovery Handicap during the fall of his 3-year-old campaign. But before returning to stakes competition, trainer John Terranova wants to see his horse get through at least one more allowance condition.

This Guns for Hire, 4, has already started twice during the current meet, finishing second and third under similar second-level allowance conditions within a 15-day span in January. He has not started since Jan. 23, but has worked steadily and at times spectacularly at the Palm Meadows Training Center in preparation for his return.

"He was a late-maturing type. I'm still learning about this horse but I think he can become a stakes winner this year," Terranova said.

Eibar Coa will ride This Guns for Hire for the first time Thursday. He replaces Jerry Bailey, who has jumped ship to team up with Bill Mott and Unbridled Vision, who is the horse to beat.

Unbridled Vision, a son of Unbridled, is a half-brother to Grade 2 winner Vision and Verse. Now 5, Unbridled Vision has started just five times in his career with four of those outings coming at Gulfstream Park.

Mott was forced to send Unbridled Vision to the sidelines for nine months following an impressive entry-level allowance victory at Churchill Downs last May. He returned from a layoff to finish second behind Regency Park, despite having to rally from behind a slow pace and overcome some brief traffic problems in the midst of a midstretch bid.

Fiery Sweep will be the one to catch. Claimed by trainer Mark Shuman for $25,000 Feb. 21, Fiery Sweep returned just 11 days later to easily defeat first-level allowance company by 3 1/4 lengths. It was only his second start around two turns and first going 1 1/8 miles.

Jade Digger, who was hard used contesting a torrid pace trying 12 furlongs on turf earlier this month, could be a factor if able to run back to his easy 5 1/2-length allowance victory here Jan. 24.

Patent comes into the race in much better form than when he finished nearly seven lengths behind This Guns for Hire in their previous Jan. 8 encounter.

Indy Lead, idle since Dec. 1, rounds out the compact lineup.

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