07/20/2001 12:00AM

Handicapping this weekend's stakes

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Get ready for a big summer weekend of stakes races. Delaware Park hosts its biggest weekend of the year with graded stakes on both Saturday and Sunday, and this weekend also marks the opening weekend at Del Mar and the closing weekend at Belmont Park, as New York Racing moves north to Saratoga next week.

The weekend's Grade 1 races are the Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont and the Ramona Handicap at Del Mar. The Oaks, which asks 3-year-old fillies to go a mile and a half, has attracted a field of eight with Scotty Schulhofer up-and-comer Exogenous rating a slight edge over stakes-placed Unbridled Lassie and West coast shipper Starrer. Exogenous didn't have the best trip in the 1 1/8-mile Mother Goose, and has as good a chance as any to handle the 1 1/2-mile distance.

The Ramona has lost some of its luster with Happyanunoit injured and out of the race. Tranquility Lake should have a big advantage at a small price in the field of six.

Delaware's big weekend starts with three stakes on Saturday followed by the main course, the $600,000 Delaware Handicap, on Sunday. Caressing, who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filles in her only other two-turn start to date, should bounce back from a poor performance in the Acorn last time out. Out of town shippers should rule the other races, as well, with the possible exception of horse for the course Under the Rug in the Delaware Handicap.

WEEKEND SELECTIONS

COACHING CLUB AMERICAN OAKS

Belmont Park, Sunday - Race 8

1 1/2 miles, $350,000, Grade 1

1) Exogenous

2) Unbridled Lassie

3) Starrer

RAMONA HANDICAP

Del Mar, Saturday - Race 8

1 1/8 miles turf, $400,000, Grade 1

1) Tranquility Lake

2) Beautiful Noise

3) Timi

CARPENTER MEMORIAL

Delaware Park, Saturday - Race 4

3-y-o and up,1 1/16 miles, $100,000

1) Connected

2) Broken Vow

3) Cat's At Home

ROBERT DICK MEMORIAL

Delaware Park, Saturday - Race 6

Fillies and mares, 3-y-o and up, 1 3/8 miles turf, $150,000

1) Krisada

2) Moonlady

3) New Assembly

DELAWARE OAKS

Delaware, Saturday - Race 8

Fillies 3-y-o, 1 1/16 miles, $250,000, Grade 3

1) Caressing

2) Strike It Up

3) Mystic Lady

WASHINGTON PARK HANDICAP

Arlington, Saturday - Race 9

3-y-o & up,1 1/4 miles, $400,000, Grade 2

1) 2- Duckhorn

2) 1- Guided Tour

3) 4- A Fleets Dancer

With a $600,000 purse and a field containing quality ship-ins from both the New York and SoCal circuits, it's amazing the Delaware Handicap is only a Grade 3. The connections of Beautiful Pleasure, who would have added to the prestige of the race, have elected to pass the Delaware Handicap leaving behind an evenly-matched field of seven in what looks like one of the better stakes to bet this weekend.

DELAWARE HANDICAP

Delaware Park, Sunday - Race 8

Fillies and mares, 3-y-o & up,1 1/4 miles

Grade 3, Purse: $600,000

1) Under the Rug

2) Jostle

3) Lazy Slusan

The $600,000 purse of the Delaware Handicap has attracted some attractive shippers, but the horse to beat looks like local wonder Under the Rug, who has won four of her five career races at on this quirky oval including two stakes in a row at this year's meet. Last time out, Under the Rug overcame traffic to win the $100k Obeah by open lengths, earning a career-best 101 Beyer in the process. Under the Rug's past graded stakes attempts have been unsuccessful, but on her favorite track and in her career best form, things may be different this time around.

Jostle has developed a nasty habit of losing leads in the stretch in her last two starts, and now has lost her last three races by a combined total of one length. She's good enough to win, but needs to get back the killer instinct she had last summer when she reeled off back-to-back Grade 1 wins.

The other main contenders are SoCal shippers Lazy Slusan, and Lady Melesi. The former easily beat the latter by 2 1/2 lengths in the Milady Breeders' Cup last month, and therefore seemingly has the edge.

WEEKEND PLAY ($100)

In the Delaware Handicap, play Under the Rug to win. Box in exactas and key in trifectas with the other top contenders, Jostle, Lazy Slusan, and Lady Melesi.

$40 win Under the Rug

$ 5 exacta boxes, Under the Rug W/ Jostle, Lazy Slusan, and Lady Melesi = $30

$ 5 trifecta key, Under the Rug over Jostle, Lazy Slusan, and Lady Melesi = $30