With two Triple Crown nominees in action on April 6, Jerry and Feye Bach of Select Stable faced a dilemma that most Thoroughbred owners would envy. They could head south from their home near Cincinnati and watch Take Charge Lady in the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland. Or they could go north and cheer on Repent in the Illinois Derby (gr. II) at Sportsman's Park. "Honestly, I thought about flipping a coin," Jerry Bach said. "But then my mother, who also lives near Cincinnati, asked me if we were going to have any horses running at Keeneland. After she found out about Take Charge Lady, it was an easy decision. I wanted to be with my mom." So, the $557,750 Ashland became a family affair, with Doris Bach joining her son and his wife in Kentucky. Take Charge Lady made their trip worthwhile, blowing off seven challengers in her 4 1/4-length romp over a fast track.Meanwhile, up in Illinois, Repent struggled behind a slow pace and finished a distant second to War Emblem. "Oh wow, this is unbelievable!" declared Bach following the trophy presentation on Keeneland's turf course. "I've been pumped up the whole day waiting for this moment." Undefeated in 2002, Take Charge Lady was the odds-on favorite in the Ashland, which is considered a key prep race for the May 3 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). The 3-year-old daughter of Dehere kicked off her campaign in Louisiana in February with an 81/2-length triumph in the Silverbulletday Stakes (gr. III), then cruised by five in the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) on March 9. Handicappers predicted Keeneland's tight turns and short stretch would suit the bay filly's front-running style. But Take Charge Lady got bumped at the start by longshot Whiletheiron'shot. Even though the favorite recovered quickly, she surrendered the early lead to Colonial Glitter and galloped down the backstretch just off a brisk pace (:22.97, :46.44). While many in the Keeneland crowd of 21,271 might have been surprised by Take Charge Lady's position, her jockey, Tony D'Amico, was "very comfortable" with the situation. "I didn't want to get caught in a speed duel, so I just let Mark (Guidry, on Colonial Glitter) go on," D'Amico said. "I was content to sit in second. My filly doesn't have to be in front. She relaxed on her own."Heading into the far turn, D'Amico asked his lean, lanky mount for more speed. Gobbling up ground with her long stride, Take Charge Lady roared past a fading Colonial Glitter and set sail for the wire. At the top of the stretch, Take Charge Lady was 3 1/2 lengths in front, and she continued to widen her advantage. Her time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:43.29.Take the Cake moved up from third to second, finishing 21/2 lengths in front of Belterra, who rallied from last. Last November at Churchill Downs, Belterra had unleashed a powerful finishing kick while defeating Take Charge Lady by 4 1/2 lengths in the Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II). "I was just thinking Belterra, Belterra, Belterra, Belterra," said D'Amico of the Ashland stretch drive. "But my filly was running hard, and I knew it was going to take a good horse to beat her today." Take Charge Lady's impressive performance gave D'Amico the first grade I victory of his career. It also helped ease the sting of losing the mount on Repent and another Kentucky Derby (gr. I) prospect, Harlan's Holiday.
"This is just a remarkable day for me," D'Amico said. "It takes a lot of the pain away." Asked whether Take Charge Lady should run next in the Derby or Oaks, D'Amico replied: "I like to keep the fillies with the fillies. There's nothing wrong with running her in the Oaks. But whatever she does, she'll give it her all." Also leaning toward the Oaks was Jerry Bach. "There is no reason now for that (the Derby)," he said. "The (Triple Crown) nomination is there because nobody has a crystal ball. You never know. There's always the Preakness (gr. I) for her or something."However, on April 8, a chipped bone was discovered in Repent's left front ankle, and the colt was taken off the Kentucky Derby trail."We haven't had time to discuss Take Charge Lady; we're just trying to get everything done with Repent," said trainer Kenny McPeek, who attended the Illinois Derby instead of the Ashland. "At this point, I would have to say that she is going in the Oaks. But we've got a long time to think about it it. I really want to take a look at how she stacks up with the colts before making a decision."Carl Nafzger, who saddled the Ashland's second, third, and fifth-place finishers, did not expect to beat Take Charge Lady at Keeneland, but was hoping for revenge with Take the Cake and Belterra in the Oaks. "I think there will be more horses laying around Take Charge Lady than there were here today, and Churchill Downs has a longer stretch," the trainer said. "She'll have to slow herself down a little more in the Oaks, and that will give my fillies a better chance to lay closer without as much effort."
Making his first start in North America, German-bred Flying Dash was unruly in the post parade. Then he had to be blindfolded and backed into the starting gate. But the 3-year-old son of Dashing Blade still had plenty of energy left for the Transylvania Stakes on April 5. Making a sweeping move while turning for home, he rolled to 2 1/2-length victory over Back Packer. Ridden by Jerry Bailey, Flying Dash covered the mile on grass in 1:35.69. On hand was a crowd of 14,879, the largest since 1985 for a Keeneland spring meet opening day.Flying Dash's owner, Fusao Sekiguchi of Japan, and trainer, Neil Drysdale, won the 2000 Kentucky Derby with Fusaichi Pegasus. Sekiguchi hopes to "challenge for the roses again," according to an e-mail message that was sent to The Blood-Horse by his daughter-in-law, Yukari Sekiguchi, prior to the Transylvania.Said Drysdale of the Derby: "We can't rule it out."Keeneland's all-time leading rider, Pat Day, won his 800th career race at the track when favored Cashel Castle scored by 4 1/4 lengths in the April 7 Lafayette Stakes (gr. III). The 3-year-old son of Silver Ghost was clocked in 1:24.47 for the seven furlongs. A Sandbar Farm homebred, Cashel Castle is undefeated in five races. He is scheduled to run next in the April 27 Derby Trial (gr. III) at Churchill. His ultimate goal is this fall's Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Arlington Park, according to trainer Chris Block. (Chart, Equibase)