03/08/2005 1:00AM

Areek can jump to next level


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - It took Areek five tries finally to win her second-level allowance condition. It may take her only one attempt to get past the next one.

Despite stepping up to the next level, Areek, an easy winner of a second-level allowance dash earlier in the meet, is one of the key contenders in Thursday's $37,000 main event at Gulfstream Park. The 6 1/2-furlong dash is an optional claiming race for older fillies and mares.

, a 4-year-old daughter of Deputy Minister, showed great potential during the early stages of her 3-year-old campaign, winning 2 of her first 3 starts by wide margins, including a maiden dash by 5 1/4 lengths when she launched her career here last winter. But a sixth-place finish in the Grade 3 Ms. Preakness stakes began a six-race winless streak that finally ended with her three-length victory going seven furlongs here on Jan. 22.

"She went through one of those spells when she was not formful for a while, but in her last few starts she's kind of rounded back to her best form," said Mark Hennig, who trains Areek. "I think as she's matured she's learned to relax better, and it was very encouraging the way she was able to rate in her last start."

The ability to rate will serve Areek well in Thursday's feature, with the field loaded with speed. Among the fillies who will be showing early foot are Mystery's Jules, Platinum Perfect, and Cutoffs. Miracle Runner, another key contender, also figures to be close up from the outset.

was claimed out of a similar race for $75,000 on Feb. 17 by trainer Mike Mitchell. Rarely outrun for the lead throughout her career, Mystery's Jules posted a 4 1/2-length victory against the same caliber competition during the opening week of the meeting.

led throughout to post a game half-length victory to win her second-level allowance condition on Feb. 13. She has now captured 3 of her 4 starts, with her lone setback a fourth-place finish here earlier in the session.

Cutoffs posted a pair of wire-to-wire claiming victories here last winter, but has been idle since finishing far back in a five-furlong turf stakes in mid-April. She has trained well for her return.

Miracle Runner rallied to finish a half-length behind Lilah under similar conditions last month, and like Areek figures to be attacking the leaders from the second flight.