06/14/2002 11:00PM

Prized Stamp a puzzler

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Prized Stamp has run either second or third in all five of her races this season, but hasn't won in nearly 14 months. Does that mean she's the kind of horse who teases bettors by almost always finishing in the money, but rarely wins? Or has Prized Stamp been a victim of superior competition?

Those are some of the questions handicappers must answer when assessing Prized Stamp's chances in Tuesday night's $75,000 Golden Sylvia Handicap at Mountaineer Park.

In her career for Maryland-based trainer Dale Capuano, the 5-year-old Prized Stamp has won eight races and more than $400,000. Lately, however, she has made a habit of picking up small pieces of the purse rather than the winner's share.

Twice this season, Prized Stamp has finished second in Grade 2 stakes to two of the top fillies in the country, Xtra Heat and Raging Fever.

But when dropped into an optional claimer off those two solid races, Prized Stamp could do no better than finish third as the 3-5 favorite.

In her last start, off a five-week freshening, Prized Stamp finished second in a minor sprint stakes at Pimlico.

In an effort to improve Prized Stamp's luck, Capuano has decided to stretch her out to a mile, the first time she has gone beyond seven furlongs since finishing second in the Grade 3 Pimlico Distaff in May 2001.

If you believe Prized Stamp is a false favorite, Tax Affair and Night of Delight are viable alternatives.

Tax Affair, who finished 3 1/2 lengths behind Prized Stamp in last year's Barbara Fritchie Handicap, was a four-time winner last season. In one of her better efforts she lost a three-horse photo after leading for nearly the entire 1 1/8 miles of the Grade 3 Next Move Handicap at Aqueduct. In her only start this year, Tax Affair wired a field of optional claimers at Pimlico.

Night of Delight has won her last four starts, her last two at a mile, while steadily climbing from 73 to 96 on the Beyer Speed Figure scale.