07/19/2001 12:00AM

Does 'Pleasure' still have it?


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Is Beautiful Pleasure history? Or is she just getting back into shape?

These are questions to be answered Sunday in the $600,000 Delaware Handicap, the showcase race of the 140-day Delaware Park meet. Beautiful Pleasure is one of three logical favorites in the 1 1/4-mile Delaware Cap, along with Lazy Slusan and Jostle.

Beautiful Pleasure won the 1999 Eclipse Award as top mare, and was in contention for a repeat last year until finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Owner John Oxley and trainer John T. Ward Jr. subsequently took a long time debating whether to race Beautiful Pleasure at age 6 or to retire her. They ultimately decided on one more year.

In her June 23 comeback, Beautiful Pleasure set the pace before tiring to finish seventh in the Grade 1 Hempstead Handicap at Belmont. Donna Ward, John Ward's wife and training partner, said earlier this week that the Hempstead should be viewed with forgiveness.

"Nobody said finally until the [March 10] Florida Derby that she was going to stay in training," she said. "So for 3 1/2 months, I was keeping her in training and letting her down at the same time. That left me exactly 3 1/2 months to get her ready for Grade 1 company. She got beat seven lengths. She didn't get beat 27 lengths."

Donna Ward said Beautiful Pleasure has trained superbly at Belmont since the Hempstead and that she expects a much stronger effort Sunday.

Besides Lazy Slusan and Jostle, five other fillies and mares are entered in the Grade 3 Delaware Cap, which culminates a weekend with more than $1.4 million in stakes purses on offer.

From the rail, the lineup is Lady Melesi, 116 pounds, Pat Day to ride; Humble Clerk, 113, Larry Melancon; Beautiful Pleasure, 119, Jorge Chavez; Under the Rug, 115, Mark Johnston; Jostle, 117, Jerry Bailey; Kris Pit, 111, Tony Black; Lazy Slusan, 121, Victor Espinoza; and Irving's Baby, 113, Ramon Dominguez.

Pat Day goes for three in a row

Lady Melesi will attempt to give Pat Day an unprecedented third straight victory in the Delaware Cap. Day rode Tap to Music to victory in 1999 and Lu Ravi last year. Only Day, Eddie Maple (1988-89), and Jorge Velasquez (1977-78) have won back-to-back Del Caps.

Lady Melesi, trained by Rusty Arnold, is perhaps the most improved horse in the race, having finished second to Lazy Slusan in the Grade 1 Milady on June 3 at Hollywood Park. She arrived here Thursday afternoon from New York.

John's Call making 10-year-old debut

John's Call, the popular gelding who last year at age 9 captured two Grade 1 turf races in New York, will be the main attraction on the Sunday undercard.

John's Call is scheduled to make his 10-year-old debut in the third of 11 races in the $55,000 Cape Henlopen Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile turf race that drew a full field of 12. Last year, John's Call, trained by Tommy Voss, won the Cape Henlopen in his seasonal bow, then went on to win the Sword Dancer and Turf Classic before finishing a close third in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

The richest undercard event is the $250,000 Kent Breeders' Cup, which drew an overflow field and figures to be a terrific betting race. The $75,000 Light Hearted Stakes is also on the Sunday card.

Kain's Prize on the bubble

Dale Capuano likes Kain's Prize, and well he should. The filly has won her three career starts by a total of 22 lengths.

But Capuano, based at Laurel, doesn't like Kain's Prize enough to throw her to the wolves - at least not yet. Capuano said he was "95 percent sure" he would scratch Kain's Prize from the Delaware Oaks after the filly was assigned post 10 in the bulky field.

"She doesn't have the speed to overcome that," said Capuano. "I might run her back in the Monmouth Oaks, but more than likely I'll just wait for Saratoga," where the Prized filly will run in a third-level allowance.

Sincerely, retired

Sincerely, winner of the Delaware Oaks last year for trainer Graham Motion, has been retired after suffering a condylar fracture several weeks ago.

Motion said Sincerely, owned by Larry Johnson, recently returned from the New Bolton equine clinic in Pennsylvania, where she had a metal plate and about 12 screws surgically implanted into her cannon bone. She was injured during a routine gallop at Delaware, said Motion.

The Delaware Oaks was the most notable career win for Sincerely, who was ridden by Mike McCarthy in that hard-fought victory over Trip and Valleydar.

- additional reporting by David Grening