A sloppy track added a little intrigue to Monday's $150,000 Arlington Matron Handicap (gr. III), but prohibitive favorite Take Charge Lady put an end to any issues on the turn for home, striding out in the home stretch for jockey Shane Sellers to win as she pleased.
"I just love this filly," said Sellers, a two-time Arlington champion who returned to riding last Fall after a year-long sabbatical from the saddle to fully recover from a knee injury suffered a few years earlier. "She's something else. She's a joy to ride. She's been the highlight of my comeback. It's horses like her that I came back for."
Take Charge Lady, off at 2-5 while carrying top weight of 123 pounds in the overmatched field of six fillies and mares, snapped a string of three consecutive second-place finishes, posting her first win in 2003. Defending Matron winner Lakenheath, getting nine pounds from Take Charge Lady, was second, followed by To The Queen, 1 3/4 lengths behind the runner-up. The final time on a muddy track was 1:50 for the 1 1/8-mile event.
The winner was sixth in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) at Arlington and a well-beaten second to Sightseek in the Ogden Phipps (gr. I) on a sloppy Belmont strip June 21, giving longshot players a little hope.
But the 4-year-old Dehere filly, breaking well from her outside post, stalked comfortably off the rail in second behind Fly Borboleta. She moved up on the leader's outside on the final turn after fractions of :24, :48 and 1:12 2/5. By the time they hit the head of the stretch, Take Charge Lady was in full control en route to a 10 1/2-length victory.
Trained by Ken McPeek for the Select Stable, Take Charge Lady could be warming up for a another crack at Azeri and perhaps Sightseek and Wild Spirit, three of the top females in the nation in this year's $2 million Nextel Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park Oct. 25. She was second to each of them in her last three starts.
"I think at some point we want to take her (Azeri) on again," McPeek said. "This filly is a top filly. I think we could have beaten (Azeri) at Oaklawn (gr. I Apple Blossom) with a little bit more luck. We're going to be in the thick of it with her for the Breeders' Cup."
Take Charge Lady earned $90,000 with her 10th win in 19 starts. She also has been second seven times. Her career bankroll reached $2,160,351 with the victory.
The winner paid $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10. Lakenheath, ridden by Chris Emigh, returned $4.20 and $2.10. To The Queen, Curtis Bourque aboard, showed for $2.10. The $2 exacta was worth $11.20.
"I think she really loves this track," said Emigh, who rode the runner-up. "She was on the muscle today. I couldn't stay with the winner, so after that I just tried to hold her together and made sure I got the second spot."
With $361,288 of the $379,260 in the show pool wagered on the winner, Take Charge Lady created a minus show pool of $75,230.