01/22/2004 12:00AM

Situation ripe for a closer

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Speed is the name of the game in Saturday's $75,000 Paumonok Handicap at Aqueduct. Harnessing that speed is likely the key to victory in a competitive 96th running of the six-furlong sprint.

, the pacesetting runner-up of the 2002 Gravesend Handicap over this track, head the list of speed signed up for the Paumonok. Toss in Don Six - who has run the fastest six furlongs at this meet - Spooky Mulder, and Sunray Spirit to the mix and the race would appear ripe for a closer.

Way to the Top may be the best of the stretch-runners. Way to the Top is taking a slight drop in class after finishing fourth to A Huevo in the Grade 1 Frank J. De Francis Dash at Laurel and second behind Shake You Down in the Gravesend.

Trainer Bruce Levine believes Way to the Top will be more effective coming from off the pace, as he did in the De Francis. Jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr. rides from post 7. Way to the Top is the 117-pound co-highweight.

"I'd like him to draft in behind the speed,'' Levine said. "The other day he went up there, dropped back, a horse lapped on him, and he still kicked in.''

Super Fuse drops back to a sprint after a failed attempt at routing last out. Though he has lost his last 10 starts, Super Fuse has finished second in his last three sprints.

Sunray Spirit is drawn on the outside in this nine-horse field and that may enable jockey Richard Migliore to stalk the other speed. After suffering a foot injury in an allowance race at Saratoga last August, Sunray Spirit returned with an impressive four-length allowance score over the inner track on Dec. 10. How Sunray Spirit breaks will determine how Migliore is able to ride him.

"If he gets away clean, he's going to be very close,'' Migliore said. "If he gets away sloppy, with the kind of speed horses in there he'll be stalking.''

Kiaran McLaughlin, who has won stakes three of the last four weekends, trains Sunray Spirit.

Spooky Mulder is another speed horse who can be effective stalking. He has 3 wins and 2 seconds in 5 starts since being claimed by Scott Lake. Peeping Tom, a Grade 1 winner, must improve upon his last three races. Crafty Song must avoid bouncing off a career-best effort turned in two weeks ago.