Take Charge Lady, morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Oaks.

Take Charge Lady, morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Oaks.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Take Charge Lady Is Morning Line Favorite For Kentucky Oaks

Ashland Stakes winner Take Charge Lady heads a field of 10 3-year-old fillies that were entered Tuesday morning for Friday's 128th running of the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. Ridden by Tony D'Amico, the daughter of Dehere will start from the No. 9 post position.

Churchill oddsmaker Mike Battaglia called Take Charge Lady and her challengers "the best Oaks field from top to bottom that I've ever seen." He made Take Charge Lady the 2-1 morning line favorite.

"Take Charge Lady has been running better than the boys this year," Battaglia said. "Imperial Gesture is 2-for-2. And look at You and Habibti, how they've been running on the West Coast. Top flight horses, both of them. Then take Bella Bellucci and throw her in there, the way she's coming out of that race in New York. This is a great field."

Take Charge Lady is undefeated this year in three races, which she has won by margins ranging from 4 ¼ to 8 ½ lengths. In addition to the Ashland, she has captured the Silverbulletday Stakes and the Fair Grounds Oaks in Louisiana. Her trainer, Ken McPeek, also has the probable Kentucky Derby favorite, Harlan's Holiday.

"I'm glad we drew an outside post," said McPeek of Take Charge Lady's starting position. "I did not want to be down inside. She is more tactical from the outside. She rates better from an outside post."

The Oaks field also includes, in post position order: Farda Amiga (with rider Chris McCarron); Habibti (Victor Espinoza); Take the Cake (Rene Douglas); You (Jerry Bailey); Ms Brookski (Jorge Chavez); Bella Bellucci (Gary Stevens); Imperial Gesture (Frankie Dettori); and Art Fair (Billy Troilo). To the outside of Take Charge Lady is Ile de France (Alex Solis).

The excitement over this year's crop of 3-year-old fillies began last year when Tempera won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in faster time than Johannesburg captured the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Tempera covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 2/5 while Johannesburg was clocked in 1:42 1/5. Five starters in the Juvenile Fillies also are scheduled to run this year in the Oaks: Imperial Gesture, Bella Bellucci, You, Take Charge Lady, and Habibti. Tempera also was being pointed for the Oaks, but she became ill last week and was euthanized this past Sunday because of complications from colitis and laminitis. On Wednesday, May 1, trainer Neil Drysdale and Demi O'Byrne, advisor to owner Michael Tabor, scratched Bella Bellucci because blood tests revealed she "was not 100%."

Imperial Gesture, runner-up to Tempera in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, is the winner this year of two races in Dubai. In her most recent outing, she defeated Tempera by 3 ¼ lengths in the UAE Oaks.

You is coming into the Oaks off of victories in the Las Virgenes Stakes and Santa Anita Oaks in California. Habibti finished second to her in both those races, but defeated You by a head in the Hollywood Starlet Stakes last December. You is trained by Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, who won the Oaks last year with Flute and in 1998 with Keeper Hill.

Bella Bellucci has won four of her five career races. She is coming into the Oaks off of a seven-length triumph in the April 14 Comely Stakes at Aqueduct.

Belterra was not entered in the Oaks because trainer Carl Nafzger thought that she had not recovered sufficiently from throat surgery. She possibly could run next in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico or against the colts in the Lone Star Derby in Texas, Nafzger said.

Traci's Wild, another Oaks candidate, was entered instead in the Edgewood (at one mile on grass) at Churchill on Oaks Day. After she worked a half-mile from the starting gate in :50 Tuesday morning, trainer Gary Thomas said: "The Edgewood looks like a better fit. The Oaks was coming up very tough, and I think my filly will like the grass."

Battaglia's odds for the Oaks entrants other than Take Charge Lady are: Farda Amiga, 30-1; Habibti, 6-1; Take the Cake, 15-1; You, 7-2; Ms Brookski, 30-1; Bella Bellucci, 3-1; Imperial Gesture, 4-1; Art Fair, 50-1; Ile de France, 30-1.

If all 10 fillies start, the Oaks purse will be worth $564,600.