07/20/2001 12:00AM

Christiana's roots run deep at Delaware


STANTON, Del. - Take a brief tour of the area surrounding Delaware Park, and it's hard to miss the name DuPont. Hospitals, hotels, schools, highways, golf courses, and just about everything else owes some connection to the first family of Delaware.

Horse racing is a standard of the DuPont legacy, too. William DuPont Jr. not only built Delaware Park, but his Foxcatcher Farm won the first running of the Delaware Handicap, then known as the New Castle Handicap, in 1937. Many members of the DuPont family can claim a longstanding prominence in breeding and racing, particularly at their home track. The stable names Christiana, Bohemia, and Brandywine are integral parts of the rich history of Delaware Park, which covers some 700 acres of prime real estate in the heart of the Delaware Valley.

Not surprisingly, the leading owner in Del Cap history is from the DuPont line: Christiana Stable, which has won the race four times, one more than runner-up Calumet. Mrs. Jane DuPont Lunger, now 87, was part of the winner's circle celebration every time that Endine (1958-59) and Obeah (1969-70) won the Del Cap.

Sunday, Christiana Stable will be represented by Under the Rug, marking a rare appearance since its powerhouse days under the late Hall of Fame trainer, Henry Clark.

"It would be just thrilling if our filly could win," Mrs. Lunger said Friday from her home in nearby Centerville, Del.

Although Mrs. Lunger, who has been in ill health recently, won't be in attendance Sunday, the stable will be represented by other family members, includingher daughter, Ann Jones. Mrs. Lunger seems unconcerned about missing the race, partly because she is so superstitious: She was absent four weeks ago when Under the Rug won the Obeah Stakes.

"I think having a race over the track will help her," said Mrs. Lunger, an avid handicapper.

In fact, Under the Rug has won four of five starts at Delaware. A 6-year-old Lord at War mare based at Laurel Park with veteran trainer Jim Murphy, Under the Rug will be taking a significant class raise competing against the likes of Lazy Slusan and Jostle.

"She's got to run her best race to get anything," said Murphy. "She likes the racetrack and has a lot going for her right now, but this is a lot tougher race to run in."

Does Del Cap deserve higher grade?

Even though the Del Cap offers a $600,000 purse and has attracted outstanding fields in recent years, the race still carries a Grade 3 ranking.

That doesn't sit well at all with Delaware officials, who strongly believe the North American Graded Stakes Committee has slighted their signature race. When grades for 2001 were released last winter, chief operating officer Bill Fasy said he was shocked.

"We are extremely frustrated," said Fasy. "We feel we're being unfairly ignored. We are upset about the partial treatment that some other races have gotten, and yet the committee keeps looking the other way when it comes to our race."

The committee meets every year to adjust rankings. One of the 12 voting members, Bob Umphrey of Calder, said Friday that the committee is partly restricted by statistical parameters but that he believes the Del Cap is "on the cusp of becoming a Grade 2. It's certainly going in the right direction."

Ward opts to run at Saratoga

Did the Del Cap's Grade 3 ranking lead to Beautiful Pleasure being scratched?

"Overall, I'd rather run in a Grade 1 at Saratoga than a Grade 3 at Delaware," said trainer John T. Ward Jr. "When you consider shipping and everything else, like how she's performed over the track at Saratoga, I took the conservative route."

Beautiful Pleasure will be coupled with Darling My Darling next Saturday in the Grade 1 Go for Wand Stakes, said Ward.

Jostle seeks to regain lost luster

Now would be as good a time as any for Jostle to break through. In four starts this year, Jostle is winless, including brutal beats in her last two starts, the Pimlico Distaff and Hempstead Handicap.

"The Pimlico race was really disappointing," said Servis, "but the last one, that really hurt because she came into the race so good."

All that lingering pain could be easily forgotten Sunday if Jostle wins the Del Cap under Jerry Bailey. Not only would Jostle end a five-race losing streak

dating to her win in the Cotillion Stakes in September, but Servis also believes a victory would return Jostle, owned by Wilmington native Rick Porter, to the upper echelon of the filly and mare division.

"It would mean a lot to me to win for Mr. Porter," said Servis. "Off the last two races, you can see where she's really rounding back into form. I think a win would really push her way up the ladder."

Lady Melesi gets tested for class

Rusty Arnold has had a red ring around this date for quite a while. Ever since Lady Melesi ran second in the Sixty Sails Handicap at Sportsman's Park in April, "we've been pointing her to this race," said Arnold.

In the meantime, the only race for Lady Melesi, a 4-year-old daughter of Colonial Affair, was another encouraging one. She finished a solid second behind Lazy Slusan in the Grade 1 Milady at Hollywood Park on June 3.

"She hasn't beat the type of horses she's running against Sunday - yet," Arnold said from Belmont. "But we feel like she'll really get the mile and a quarter,and she has trained very, very well into this race. We ought to find out something Sunday."

A victory by Lady Melesi would allow Pat Day to become the first jockey to win the Del Cap three years in a row. Day won in 1999 on Tap to Music and last year with Lu Ravi.

With New York and its mammoth OTB network again offering wagering on the entire Sunday card at Delaware, officials are hoping the record for all-sources handle will fall. That mark was set three years ago, when $3,776,048 was bet on the Del Cap card.

* Breaking the track and stakes record Sunday will take some quick hoofing. It was 14 years ago that Coup de Fusil, trained by John Nerud and ridden by Angel Cordero Jr., stepped the 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.80, winning by four lengths. Since then, no winner has come close to that clocking.

* Jerry Bailey lost his mount in Saturday's Delaware Oaks when Flute was scratched. But when trainer Mark Hennig learned about Flute's defection, he secured Bailey to ride Mystic Lady in the Oaks.