Updated on 09/16/2011 7:17AM

Dominant pair clash in Oaks

Email
Horsephotos
Take Charge Lady, who probably will be a solid favorite for the Select Stable of Jerry and Feye Bach, enters the 128th Oaks at Churchill Downs on Friday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - One is the best of the East, the other the best in the West.

As regional showdowns go, there seems no better race or place than the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs to determine who is the top 3-year-old filly in the land: Take Charge Lady, who has been superb in dominating the eastern half of the country this year, or You, who enters the 128th Oaks off back-to-back Grade 1 triumphs in California.

The connections of both fillies will walk into Churchill Friday full of confidence - and rightly so.

Take Charge Lady, who probably will be a solid favorite for the Select Stable of Jerry and Feye Bach, "is eating and training now like never before," said Helen Pitts, assistant to trainer Ken McPeek, Wednesday shortly after dismounting the filly. "She's too good to be true."

Likewise, You, a three-time Grade 1 winner for owner Edmund Gann, is approaching the Oaks in peak form, according to trainer Bobby Frankel. "It's not going to make a lot of difference" how the 1 1/8-mile race sets up, said Frankel. "We've got as much speed as anyone."

That assertion might be as important as anything when horseplayers sit down to take a long look at the race shape of the $500,000 Oaks. The race drew a field of 10 but will have a maximum of nine starters following the Wednesday scratch of Bella Bellucci, which occured after trainer Neil Drysdale was not satisfied with the results of a blood test. Take Charge Lady has superior speed, but Frankel insists that Jerry Bailey, the Hall of Fame jockey who will ride You, will try to ensure that Take Charge Lady does not slip away to an insurmountable advantage.

"That's one good thing about riding good riders," said Frankel. "They're going to be in the right spot."

Take Charge Lady will break from the outside, which should allow jockey Tony D'Amico to do as he pleases by the time the field hits the first turn.

"We don't have to make the lead, but we'll at least be forwardly placed," said D'Amico.

Maybe the filly to stick closest to Take Charge Lady in the early stages will be Imperial Gesture, who has to be considered the wild card of the Oaks - especially in light of the death of her Godolphin Racing stablemate Tempera on Sunday. The champion 2-year-old filly of 2001, Tempera had to be euthanized after developing an illness, to the distress of those close to her, including owner Sheikh Mohammed, trainer Saeed bin Suroor, and assistant Tom Albertrani.

Imperial Gesture, who likely will be a distant third choice in the Oaks, won her only two starts this year at her home track in Dubai, both of them over Tempera. How much she has improved over her runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall will be determined Friday.

Habibti, the likely fourth choice, has become a familiar rival of You's, having finished second to her in their last two meetings, the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks. A late-running filly owned by The Thoroughbred Corp., Habibti "has come around for me some," said trainer Bob Baffert. "She kind of got away from me a little there at Santa Anita, but I like how she's done since we got here."

Other starters in the Oaks are Farda Amiga, Take the Cake, Ms Brookski, Art Fair, and Ile de France.

Take the Cake, the runner-up behind Take Charge Lady four weeks ago in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, might be the most capable longshot.

"I couldn't be happier with her," said trainer Carl Nafzger.

Post time for the Oaks, which is the ninth of 10 races on a stakes-laden program, is 5:43 p.m. Eastern. First post is 11:30 a.m. There is a $2 daily double linking Friday's Oaks with Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

Kentucky Oaks day has come to be known as "Louisville's Day at the Races," since so many locals come to Churchill on Friday, then stay at home for Derby parties the next day. Attendance has exceeded 100,000 in each of the last three years, but with stringent new security measures being implemented this year at Churchill, officials are unsure whether that six-figure mark will be attained again.

Live coverage of the Oaks will be on ESPN2 on a one-hour show that begins at 5 p.m. The weather forecast for Friday calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the high 60's.