06/25/2001 11:00PM

Jarf finds his stepping-stone

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ELMONT, N.Y. - In his last four starts, Jarf has more than held his own with the likes of Traditionally, Postponed, and Gander, who were using allowance races as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things.

After a brief freshening, Jarf returns to action Thursday at Belmont Park in a classified allowance race that may propel him to bigger and better things. Jarf takes on the stakes-winning Liberty Gold and three others in a 1 1/16-mile race that serves as Belmont's feature.

In January, trainer Allen Iwinski claimed Jarf for $50,000 for owner Robert Amendola and the two have been rewarded with two wins and two seconds. In his first start, Jarf ran into Traditionally and was beaten 9 1/4 lengths. Traditionally went on to win the Grade 1 Oaklawn Park Handicap.

Jarf returned to New York in March and defeated highly-regarded 3-year-old prospect Romolo's Fritzi and then 2000 Peter Pan winner Postponed before finishing second to stakes winner Gander in a fourth-level allowance on May 10.

Iwinski said he has since had a hard time getting a race to fill for Jarf, who shows three solid distance works heading into this race. A good performance could have Iwinski thinking stakes race for Jarf, a 5-year-old son of Mt. Livermore.

"Mr. Amendola and I have talked about that, we really felt like we needed to win a four-other-than and let him show us he's ready to go up against good horses," Iwinski said. "``Now that he's in we're going to find out. If everything works out, we'll move up to the next level."

Jarf can either race on or just off the pace and breaking from post 5 should allow jockey Richard Migliore to ride the race as he sees fit. The only other horse with speed in the field is Grady, who comes off three consecutive second-place finishes. Moreover, Grady has enjoyed most of his success sprinting.

The horse to fear is Liberty Gold, a 7-year-old son of Crafty Prospector who is 4 for 5 at the distance, including a victory in the Grade 3 Aqueduct Handicap in January. Liberty Gold, trained by Rusty Arnold, has been competitive in three stakes tries since, but appears to need a swifter pace than he will probably get in this spot.

Gatewood makes his second start for trainer Billy Badgett after a third-place finish behind Durmiente and Grady in a similar money allowance race on May 16. Country Be Gold drops back into allowance company after a fifth-place finish in the Brooklyn Handicap.