09/07/2002 12:00AM

Imperial Gesture impressive


ELMONT, N.Y. - Imperial Gesture is making up for lost time at the right time.

A bust in the Kentucky Oaks when she was bumped at the start, and away for most of the summer due to lack of conditioning, Imperial Gesture put together her second straight powerful performance Saturday by rolling to a 2 1/2-length victory in the Grade 1, $250,000 Gazelle Handicap at Belmont Park.

Take Charge Lady, who chased Imperial Gesture around the track, settled for second, six lengths ahead of 7-5 favorite Bella Bellucci.

Imperial Gesture ($8.30), who took the lead coming out of the chute under Jose Santos, covered the nine furlongs in 1:47.12, making it the second-fastest Gazelle since the race was moved to 1 1/8 miles in 1961.

"That was the most impressive performance I've seen this filly run since we've had her," said Tom Albertrani, the New York-based assistant trainer for Godolphin Racing. "He [Santos] was double-handed all the way through the race. When he asked her to go, she just lengthened right out."

The win came only 15 days after Imperial Gesture won a seven-furlong allowance race at Saratoga. That was her first race since the Kentucky Oaks where she was beaten 25 1/2 lengths after getting slammed at the start.

Santos thought Spring Meadow would set the pace in the Gazelle, but was content when Imperial Gesture took him to the front on a speed-favoring track. Imperial Gesture set fractions of 23.19 seconds, 46.73, 1:10.44, and 1:34.66.

"I was sitting pretty on the lead and every eighth of a mile she was increasing by herself. When Prado came to me at the quarter pole I just asked her and she responded and opened up," Santos said.

Albertrani said he did not know where Imperial Gesture would run next.

Aside from acting up in the paddock - something she does frequently - Take Charge Lady's performance off a 105-day layoff was pleasing to trainer Ken McPeek, who said the filly would run next in the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland on Oct. 6.

"Good, solid race," he said. "We didn't want it to be her best one. Edgar [Prado] seemed to think that other filly would never beat her again."

The biggest disappointment was Bella Bellucci, who broke awkwardly, rushed up into contention, but offered no late kick.

"She missed the break," trainer Neil Drysdale said. "She moved up in there and used up all of her energy to get into position. Then he gave her a breather, then they kicked and she flattened a bit in the stretch."