Take Charge Lady is one of the Kentucky Oaks' most formidable forces. She has won all three of her races in 2002, cruising by margins ranging from 4 1/4 lengths to 8 1/2 lengths. She likes to run on the front end, but in the Ashland Stakes, she showed that she can rate. The daughter of Dehere surrendered the early lead to Colonial Glitter, then rallied heading into the final turn and blew by that rival.
But not even her own trainer, Kenny McPeek, thinks Take Charge Lady is invulnerable. In a frank conversation earlier this week at Churchill Downs, McPeek pointed out at least one weakness in her armor.
"I'm not convinced that this is her favorite track," he said. "I think she worked great over it the other day (five furlongs in :59.60) -- the best I've ever seen her go. But in all honesty, I don't like the way she runs in the mud here. She likes it when it's dry and tight. She'll run (in the Oaks if it's sloppy), but that wouldn't be my choice of surfaces."
Take Charge Lady captured the Fair Grounds Oaks by five lengths in the slop this year in Louisiana, but last fall, she finished second in the Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill over a wet surface.
"Her worst race on paper, Beyer Figure-wise (80), was here in the mud," McPeek said.
The good news for McPeek is that it is not expected to rain on Oaks Day. Now he's hoping that Take Charge Lady will draw an outside post Wednesday for the big race.
"When she doesn't get the lead, she's better off on the outside," the trainer said.
Last year, Take Charge Lady won her first three races, then finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies before closing out her campaign with her runner-up Golden Rod finish. While mud was a factor at Churchill, McPeek didn't think the track condition was the only reason for Take Charge Lady's Golden Rod loss.
"For whatever reason, she lost a lot of weight from the day we left for New York (for the Breeders' Cup) until the day we got back," he said. "We noticed like a 70-pound weight shift, which was unbelievable, and it was kind of worrisome. But we never caught her running a temperature, and she seemed to be eating good. I don't know if she just got dehydrated or what. She still ran decent in the Golden Rod, but it wasn't a great race. We sent her to the farm (in Florida) afterward, and the four weeks there seemed to help her a lot."
Physically, Take Charge Lady couldn't be better heading into the Oaks. Her coat is sleek and shiny, and she turned in a strong gallop Monday under McPeek's assistant Helen Pitts.
"She's just getting better and better," Pitts said. "She used to be a finicky eater, but she's eating better now than she's ever eaten before. She doesn't -- knock on wood -- miss an oat. She's eaten more quantity than she's ever eaten, and she's put on weight this spring."
Take Charge Lady was nominated to both the Oaks and the Derby. But even though she has been unbeatable in 2002, McPeek did not think a run for the roses would be in her best interest.
"She's a typical female; she's a very light filly," McPeek said. "I think that in a big field, if things didn't go her way, she'd get bumped leaving the gate. It can be a rough race, and I don't think she's up to a rough race. I think if she got into a little bit of a battle with a big group of horses, it would be more harmful than helpful. If she got off bad, she would get annihilated in there. I'm also not convinced that a mile and a quarter is her game."
McPeek has said the Preakness is a possibility if Take Charge Lady runs impressively in the Oaks.