02/04/2002 1:00AM

Quest Star has room to improve


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - A preliminary allowance race for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park this time of year can often be as intriguing as any graded stakes.

A case in point is Wednesday's $34,000 feature, which could prove a stepping-stone to more lucrative opportunities later in the meet. Even a possible starting berth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 16 may be on the line for one or more of the seven 3-year-olds in the lineup.

Quest Star, Iwin, Personal Reward, and Marasca have all shown the potential to join the elite of their division if they are able to move forward off their last starts.

Quest Star may be the most promising of the quartet. He returned from a three-month vacation and stretched out around two turns for the first time, and registered a game victory over maiden special weight company here on Jan. 12.

"I really liked that last race, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he'll do in his next start," said Elliott Walden, who trains Quest Star for the Mansell Stables. "I think he's still got a lot of improvement in him. He was still very green in his last race. We'll find out a little more on Wednesday, but if he were to run well I might take a look at the Florida Derby."

Pat Day replaces John Velazquez aboard Quest Start. Velazquez is the regular rider for Personal Reward.

Iwin finished a tiring sixth under similar conditions on Jan. 9 in the faster division of a split entry-level allowance race won by Grey Beard, one of the major contenders for the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 16. Iwin made a midrace run after taking up sharply on the opening turn, and tired down the stretch. He figures to improve off that performance, especially with a pair of bullet five-furlong works under his belt since that race. Eibar Coa again has the call for trainer Nick Zito.

Marasca and Personal Reward won split divisions of a seven-furlong maiden special weight dash on Jan. 12, with Marasca running .60 seconds faster that afternoon. Marasca will try to avenge a 4 1/2-length setback at the hands of Iwin going a mile in his 2-year-old finale on Dec. 2, and will have the services of Jerry Bailey.

Personal Reward won his 3-year-old debut coming off a six-month layoff and with the addition of Lasix. But, like Marasca, he will be attempting to go two turns for the first time on Wednesday.

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