Updated on 09/16/2011 8:49AM

Bully for Kentucky and Florida!

Take Charge Lady is likely to be the shortest-priced favorite on the Great State Challenge card on Saturday at Sam Houston. She runs in the Distaff just nine days after finishing second in the Falls City at Churchill on Thanksgiving.

HOUSTON - It's no surprise that Kentucky and Florida will field the two strongest favorites on Saturday's inaugural, $1.65 million Great State Challenge at Sam Houston Race Park: The two states produce the nation's largest foal crops and have the deepest talent pools from which to draw. In Kentucky's corner is Take Charge Lady, who will be the odds-on choice to win the $275,000 Distaff, while Florida's strength lies with standout Forbidden Apple in the $275,000 Turf.

The races are two of six divisional match-ups that will result in one of 10 states being crowned the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Great State Challenge Champion.

Other states in the competition, which is restricted to horses bred in states where the official horsemen's representative is a dues-paying member of the NTRA, are Illinois, Maryland, New York, Texas, Iowa, Indiana, and Washington.

Kentucky will have the most starters on the program with 11, and because some states will have significantly more horses racing than others, officials have canceled a wager that would have enabled patrons to bet on which state would win the competition. Despite the loss of the proposition wager, there are many betting opportunities Saturday.

The battle-of-the-states competition concludes with a showdown in the $275,000 Classic between the Kentucky-bred Easyfromthegitgo and the California-bred Continental Red.

The $275,000 Sprint drew an interesting field, with My Cousin Matt, who earned a 109 Beyer Speed Figure last out, looking for his first stakes win in a field that includes Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Sprint winner Day Trader. In the $275,000 Juvenile, there are 10 stakes winners to choose from, including Only the Best, Private Gold, and Posse. The $275,000 Juvenile Fillies has drawn a field of promising fillies led by $75,000 Top Flight winner Souris.

But the focus of the program will be on Grade 1 winners Take Charge Lady and Forbidden Apple, the two most accomplished horses to ever run at Sam Houston.

Take Charge Lady, whose dominance this year has made for a small field of six in the Distaff, returns to racing nine days after finishing second in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs on Thanksgiving.

"My biggest concern was if she acted like she was knocked out," said Ken McPeek, who trains Take Charge Lady. "It shows up in the feed program with her, but she cleaned up in an hour, so I knew she was still quite strong."

McPeek and Select Stable began looking at the Distaff in October, and the race offers Take Charge Lady the chance to stylishly close out what has been an outstanding 3-year-old season. She started her year off with three consecutive stakes wins, among them the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland.

From there, she ran second in the Kentucky Oaks before taking the Grade 3 Dogwood and the Grade 1 Spinster.

McPeek said that following the Distaff Take Charge Lady will get a couple of months off in Ocala, Fla. She will then point for a spring return at Keeneland. McPeek is also considering the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn for the Dehere filly, who has won 8 of 14 races and $1.6 million.

Take Charge Lady, who will be odds-on in the Distaff, will break from the rail under Edgar Prado, while Corey Nakatani has the mount on Mystic Lady, who appears to be the chief threat Saturday.

The winner of the Grade 2 Cotillion at Philadelphia Park last year, Mystic Lady started her 4-year-old season with a win in the $75,000 Banshee Breeze Handicap at Gulfstream in April, before placing in a handful of graded stakes throughout 2002.

Mark Hennig trains the Kentucky-bred filly for owner Lee Lewis.

Overall, there will be 10 races on the card Saturday, with Sam Houston running four of its own stakes in addition to the Great State Challenge races. Purses for the entire card will total $1.8 million, making the program the richest card of racing ever staged in Texas.

The forecast for Saturday is for partly sunny skies and a high of 64. Sam Houston, which typically runs nights, has a special 1 p.m. Central post time Saturday. The Great State program runs from the third through the eighth races and will be broadcast live on Television Games Network.

The races will be shown by tape delay Sunday on ESPN2.

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