09/17/2003 11:00PM

Caesar Rodney: Top three want dirt

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Mother Nature figures to play a significant role in sorting out the contenders for Saturday's Caesar Rodney Handicap at Delaware Park. The $200,000 stakes is scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on the turf, but with Hurricane Isabel bearing down on the East Coast, forecasters predict three to five inches of rain could be dumped in Delaware.

With the ground already saturated by downpours that left the White Clay Creek, which flows through Delaware Park's property, at flood-stage level and forced Delaware to cancel live racing on Monday, handicappers ought to prepare for the likelihood the Rodney will be transferred to the main track.

If that's the case, Bowman's Band, Changeintheweather, and Private Lap are the most dangerous contenders. All three are far better on dirt than turf.

According to trainer Michael Matz, Bowman's Band will start regardless of which surface is used, even though the 5-year-old horse is 0 for 1 on the grass compared to finishing first or second in 13 of 19 starts.

In his lone attempt on grass, Bowman's Band finished third, beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Perfect Drift, whose stock has since soared after he beat two of the nation's best older horses, Mineshaft and Congaree, in two major dirt stakes.

Bowman's Band would benefit from a wet track. He defeated Private Lap by a neck, earning a career-best 112 Beyer Speed Figure, in the one-mile Brandywine on a sloppy track in June.

Private Lap has raced exclusively on dirt in his 22-race career and will probably scratch if the Rodney remains on the turf, according to his trainer, Steve Klesaris.

The 4-year-old Private Lap has run well in all three of his starts at Delaware this season, winning two stakes and just missing in the Brandywine.

Changeintheweather has been first or second in each of his last five races, including a win in the slop going 1 1/8 miles in an overnight stakes at Delaware last month. Like Private Lap, Changeintheweather probably will not run if the race stays on the grass.

If the Rodney remains on turf, the likely favorite is Rochester, a 7-year-old gelding who has been picking up small pieces of the purse in graded stakes for most of the year. Rochester is cross-entered in the Kentucky Cup Turf, a race he won last year, at Kentucky Downs.

Turf stakes next for Atlantic Wind

The 3-year-old filly Atlantic Wind, a winner of two straight allowance races, will likely make her next start in a stakes, possibly on the grass.

A Kentucky-bred daughter of Stormy Atlantic, Atlantic Wind most recently scored by 4 1/2 lengths in an off-the-turf allowance on Sept. 14. She is now 3 for 4 lifetime.

"I think we will look at what is available for her now in stakes company," trainer Steve Klesaris said. "She has some nice turf pedigree. I think she could be a dual-surface threat. At this point, she has shown the ability that she is ready for a stakes test."

Two possibilities that fit the description of what Klesaris is looking for are the Navajo Princess at Monmouth and the Grade 3 Martha Washington at Pimlico. Both are 1 1/16-mile grass races on Sept. 27.

Feliciano has two Sprint contenders

Trainer Ben Feliciano might have to root for a dead heat in next month's Maryland Million Sprint at Laurel.

Feliciano has two prime contenders for the six-furlong Sprint on Oct. 11, both of whom are coming off record-breaking performances.

Last Sunday, Crossing Point set a five-furlong track record at Pimlico by winning a high-priced optional claimer in 56.71 seconds. Last month, Ameri Brilliance established a world record by running a half-mile in 43.76 at Timonium.

"I have a big-time problem for the Maryland Million," Feliciano said. "Crossing Point and Ameri Brilliance will be in the same race and both like to go to the lead."

Since he was claimed by Feliciano in June 2002, the 6-year-old Crossing Point has won 6 of 12 starts and finished in the money nine times. He also holds the record for 5 1/2 furlongs at Laurel Park, set 10 months ago.

Four sprinters in Feliciano's barn own track records. In addition to Crossing Point and Ameri Brilliance, Baby Shark owns quarter-mile records at Calder and Mountaineer, and Splendeed holds the five-furlong turf record at Pimlico.

"I seem to have luck with sprinters," Feliciano said. "I don't train them too hard. I just try to keep them happy."