04/03/2003 12:00AM

Lady Tak faces stiffest test yet


LEXINGTON, Ky. - With the notable exception of divisional leader Storm Flag Flying, the gang's pretty much all here for the Ashland Stakes.

Indeed, the majority of the most highly accomplished fillies from every major winter-racing outpost in North America - Southern California, south Florida, and Louisiana - will clash Saturday at Keeneland in the $500,000 Ashland. The Ashland is a Grade 1 race that is the deepest prep for the Kentucky Oaks, run May 2 at Churchill Downs.

Elloluv is here, having most recently gone neck and neck with the since-injured Composure in back-to-back Grade 1 races at Santa Anita. Yell and Ivanavinalot are here after posting graded stakes triumphs at Gulfstream. And Lady Tak, the lone unbeaten runner in the field of seven 3-year-old fillies, is here after three scintillating wins at Fair Grounds.

Perhaps because she has never lost, Lady Tak seems to be the most intriguing member of the group.

A Florida-bred by Mutakddim, Lady Tak "has never really been extended" in winning all five starts, said Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. "Never in the mornings, never in the afternoons.

I think we're all wondering what it's going to be like when she's really put to the test."

Considering the opposition in the Ashland, that test most likely will come Saturday. Because her running style is so similar to that of several other contenders - most notably Elloluv and Ivanavinalot, who both like to run early - it only seems logical that Lady Tak will be confronted with the type of challenge that did not surface in her Fair Grounds races. Yet her connections seem confident that Lady Tak will prevail.

"Talent-wise, this is a very exciting filly," said Blasi, who is helping oversee the large Asmussen string at Churchill Downs. "She has just a great turn of foot."

Lady Tak, owned by Heiligbrodt Racing Stable, will be ridden Saturday by Corey Lanerie. Donnie Meche, who has ridden Lady Tak in all of her starts, is serving the final few days of a suspension that ends Wednesday.

Like Lady Tak, Elloluv also ships in with impressive credentials, having won a Grade 1 and Grade 2 before two narrow losses to Composure in the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks. Elloluv is owned by J. Paul Reddam and trained by Craig Dollase.

Yell represents the home team, even though her four career starts have come nowhere near Kentucky. Trained by Lexington native Shug McGaughey, Yell is owned by Claiborne Farm, the prominent Paris, Ky., breeding farm where she was born. Yell was awarded an Aqueduct maiden victory by disqualification to end her 2-year-old season then went 2 for 2 at Gulfstream, culminating with a six-length win in the Feb. 23 Davona Dale Stakes.

Ivanavinalot, a Florida-bred with 6 wins in 9 starts, won the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss after finishing second to Yell in the Davona Dale.

John Velazquez, who rode Ivanavinalot in the Bonnie Miss, has decided to ride Yell, with Mark Guidry taking over aboard Ivanavinalot.

As usual, top performances from the Ashland are likely to result in berths in the Oaks. Storm Flag Flying, the unbeaten divisional champion of 2002, is the Oaks favorite. She is scheduled to make her seasonal debut April 18 in the one-mile Comely Stakes at Aqueduct.

Rounding out the Ashland field are Holiday Lady, Unbridled Femme, and Allspice.

The Ashland, like all 1 1/16-mile races at Keeneland, will begin and end at what is otherwise the sixteenth pole. The Ashland is carded as the eighth of nine Saturday races. First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

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