An impressive performance by Take Charge Lady in Saturday's Fair Grounds Oaks could propel the 3-year-old daughter of Dehere into a start against the boys in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II)), according to trainer Ken McPeek.
"If Take Charge Lady runs well Saturday, we'll take a long look at your Derby," the trainer told Oaklawn Park officials earlier this week.
Take Charge Lady was impressive in her last race, when she won the Silverbulletday Stakes (gr. III) by 8 1/2 lengths, equalling a course record in the process. The winner of last year's Alcibiades Stakes (gr. II) has suffered two losses in six career races, a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and a runner-up performance in Churchill Downs' Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II) one start later.
Select Stable's Take Charge Lady is out of the unraced Rubiano mare Felicita.
McPeek also defended his decision to replace Antony D'Amico on his top two Derby threats, Harlan's Holiday and Repent.
"I received some hate mail after I took Tony off, but in my mind, there's no doubt I made the right decision," the conditioner said. "Neither I nor the owners were happy with Tony's ride on Harlan's Holiday in the Fountain of Youth. And then when you get the opportunity to get Jerry Bailey, you grab him. Not only does it mean I get the world's top rider, but it also means he can't beat me."
Should Take Charge Lady win the Arkansas Derby it would mark the second time in three years a horse sired by Dehere won the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Derby prep. In 2000, the Todd Pletcher-trained Graeme Hall (by Dehere) won the race. Pletcher also saddled the Arkansas Derby winner last year when Balto Star took the event.
The conditioner may attempt a three-peat this year.
"We have Nokoma in the Florida Derby," said Pletcher. "If he runs well there, we'll take a look at the Arkansas Derby. The timing would be right."
Trainer Robert Holthus had a three-peat attempt of his own denied Saturday when his Cojet finished a disappointing seventh as the 4-5 favorite in a division of the split Southwest Stakes. Holthus, who trained the previous two Southwest winners, said Cojet will start next in the March 23 Rebel Stakes, the final local prep for the Arkansas Derby. In the Rebel, Cojet will have a new rider as Calvin Borel will replace Terry Thompson.
"I've given (Calvin) Borel the call for the Rebel," Holthus says. "This is no knock on Terry. He'll continue to ride a lot of horses for me. But Calvin's style may suit Cojet just a little bit better than Terry's."